October 31, 2016

A Thorn In My Flesh

I felt over this last month that I don't have much to write about as most of my time has been spent at home fighting sickness.  But as I slowly become healthy again I have realized that even in the midst of not much happening in life worth writing about, there is plenty going on on in the inside...

So let me start at the beginning.

I joined our students and leaders at MAP school on a mission trip in the village of Bukerekere, about 30 minutes north west of Kampala.  Our little house that we girls stayed in for the week had a dirt floor and was open to the outside air at the roofline.  Our beds were small mattresses laid on top of papyrus mats on the floor.  It was quite cold and damp inside and out as the rainy season had started here in Uganda.  The few times during the week that the sun came out and dried up the world a little were welcome and wonderful!

I have had chronic asthma, usually allergy or exercise induced, since I was a young child.  For the most part, it has been well maintained with the more advanced medicine we have in the US (which I am increasingly becoming more thankful for).  I know that I am more at risk for certain things with just having a seemingly small health problem but one thing I knew, if I ever got pneumonia or some other respiratory sickness, it would not be a good thing.  I have never, that is, up to now...

The Monday after our first night in Bukerekere, I started coughing frequently and found it difficult to breath but thought it was just remnants from my asthma having acted up during the night.  But it continued through each night and each day as the week went on and though I didn't feel sick at all, the cough persisted and worsened slightly.  I still didn't feel too sick after returning home but the cough was wearing me out as it worsened.  I started feeling rattling in my lungs and was unable to cough up anything successfully and so decided to go to the doctor.  I started my first round of antibiotics after getting xrays.  The doctor saw swollen blood vessels throughout my lungs and what he diagnosed as atypical bacterial pneumonia.  The initial antibiotics did nothing so he prescribed me something else after a few days. 

I just became sicker and sicker.  Nothing I took made it better.  I couldn’t sleep through the night because I would wake up feeling like I was choking and unable to breath clearly.  I would take my inhaler and it would make me cough all the more.  I became weak and hot and exhausted.  One of the HOP missionaries, Etta who had taken it upon herself to help me, suggested getting tested for malaria and typhoid because of my drastic worsening over the course of a couple days.  I tested positive for malaria.  After a few days of treatment for that and finishing my antibiotics, I felt much better though still weak, tired, and coughing a lot.  I was out and about for a couple days and thought I was on my way to being healthy again. 

We are at the beginning of week three now.  After those days of feeling pretty good and being up and about a bit, I quickly took another more severe turn for the worse.  I ended up finding out about a better doctor with more advanced testing equipment, better medications available, and more experience in a town called Mbale about an hour from Tororo.  My wonderful friends that I share a compound with, Michael and Melissa, brought me to this other doctor and agreed that it was likely pneumonia exacerbated by some allergy.  He hooked me up with a cannula and some stronger antibiotics via IV push and a bronchodilator to help me breath better.  I was on this treatment for four days.  During those days of treatment, I was about as sick as I was when I had malaria also; couch ridden, little appetite, weak, exhausted, and feeling so vulnerable.  The progress of feeling better was slow but by the beginning of week four, I got to the point where I could sleep through the night and the coughing became more productive and I could breath more clearly.  The upswing was there but barely visible. 

A couple of days after finishing the IV treatment and continuing with some additional meds, I went to follow up with the doctor again.  He didn’t understand why the cough has remained so he did another test to check for TB, at least to rule it out.  The test was negative but the diagnosis seemed inconclusive as the cough simply wouldn’t go away.  I continued with the antibiotics and bronchodilator another couple of days and added an antihistamine so I could stop taking my steroid allergy meds.  I felt mediocre as I had come down with a cold but able to be off the couch and function half way.  Week five. 

And now here we are, the beginning of week six.  I am still on the antihistamine and bronchodilator and still coughing.  My strength has not returned but my appetite is coming back.  Most times I can’t cough productively and still feel like I’m gagging on myself when I really get going but I don’t feel really sick anymore! 

In the midst of all this, it has been an intense spiritual and emotional journey.  There were times when I would cough all night long and be in so much pain and unable to breath well that I would just cry out to the Lord saying, take me now if You’re not gonna heal me.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been prayed over and prayed myself for healing.  Over and over I would ask God to heal me and would get more and more discouraged when my prayer wasn’t answered the way I wanted or expected.  Some people were very encouraging and supportive while others were absolutely not.  I started to question what in the world I was doing wrong that God wasn’t healing me.  Why was I so sick?  What is the purpose for this?  Am I ever going to get well again?  There were times that I didn’t want to pray or turn to the Lord for fear of becoming discouraged in my head.   And then God would bring me to my knees again in desperation for healing and comfort. 

On the outside I tried to not have a negative attitude or be miserable to be around.  But on the inside, I was failing at this miserably most of the time.  I felt horrible physically and wondered how anyone could stand to be around me at times.  The people here have supported me and prayed for me so much though!  When I would go several days without being at school, a couple of the students would come to check in and others would commit to praying for me.  The other missionary families were so caring and helpful as they brought me to doctors, helped me with groceries and kept me company that proper thanks seems an impossible feat.  And my dear roommate Ashley has extended so much grace as I was unable to help with admin at school and have just been sick at home so much.  Her prayers and encouragement and company meant so much in the times when I felt so alone. 

One significant thing that God has shown me is that His grace must be sufficient for me, in strength and in weakness.  Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh, something that inhibited his ministry in some way but that God’s grace poured out for him was sufficient for continuing to do as God had called him.  A friend of mine also shared this youtube video:
I have not been a consistently healthy person for the last 10 years and though I hope and pray that some day God would take physical ailments from me, it is something I am learning from.  Learning how to minister to people despite weakness and realizing that no matter how much I try to be independent and strong, the fact is that I am weak and I am dependent and that is not going to change.  I am dependent on God and God often decides to use people for His work and this is part of living within the body and community.  There were times when I had to sit back and question if the life of a long term missionary is really what God has purposed my life for and always He would remind me, My grace is sufficient for you.  Not by your strength but Mine, will you do anything in life.

This last month has seriously been a challenging journey mixed with lots of grief and discouragement as well as depending on the Lord for my, well, everything.  There have been snippets of joy, comfort, and truly so much love bestowed.  Every time I experience something that results in being so blessed by others, I seriously want to somehow bless them in return and feel that it is impossible to do so adequately.  I must however choose to bless regardless if I think it is adequate or not.  It’s not about equal repayment it’s about being in community and relationship and loving as we would want to be loved.  There becomes this increasing desire to just pour into people’s lives as I have been poured into and I pray that God gives me the eyes to see and the heart to respond when those opportunities come.  


And so I’ll close by saying a heartfelt thank you to any of you who were somehow supporting me and praying me through this last month!  It was an important part of this walking with Jesus in Uganda and I am thankful.

October 30, 2016

On Mission in Bukerekere

Destination: Wakiso District, village Bukerekere
Description: A village up in the hills northwest of Kampala primarily populated by those practicing in Catholicism, Islam, witchcraft, and sorcery.  It's primary social issue is drunkenness.
Team: 20 students and 10 leaders
Mission: To break down the evils there by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through relationships, evangelism, teachings, worship, miracles, and prayer!

Our mission really started the week before departing for Bukerekere when we, the team, joined together in prayer over the village and ourselves in preparation for the work God would do once we arrived.  For me, I felt the Lord strongly laying it on my heart to pray for the faith and abilities to do signs and wonders, not something I have every done before nor felt comfortable with but God was relentless.  Daily during the week before going, even on the days when it seemed I would be remaining in Tororo instead, I prayed for this faith, to receive the power of Jesus, and to minister to the people in the village through signs and wonders.  Friday afternoon, we all gathered for a time of prayer that took the entire afternoon and in this time, I realized that even though I had been asking for these things of the Lord, I was terrified!  I have been terrified of the manifestation of the Spirit since 2014 (that's another story for another time) and I needed to overcome this fear before God could use me.  I received powerful prayer that afternoon as I confessed my fear as well as my response to that fear of numbing the Spirit moving in and through me at various times over the last few years.  I knew that somehow God would use me to minister in the village the following week, even if it was only to one person.

I could not have known just what that would look like and would probably have trembled in greater fear had I known what was coming...

In general our days began with working up the courage to get out of bed and into the cold only to bathe in freezing cold, super dirty water.  I have rarely been so thankful for hot tea, warm boiled eggs or mandazis or bread for breakfast!  The rainy season had begun just before we left for the mission and being in that village we got doused seriously!  After breakfast, we all gathered together to pray, worship, and listen to a short teaching by one of the leaders.  We then broke up into groups of three and went out to share the Gospel with people in the village.  This was one of my favorite times of the day.

I have not often done blatant, bold evangelism; it was just awesome!  It's like an unexplainable joy and strength that comes from walking up to a complete stranger and sharing with them about Jesus!  In Uganda, and I would imagine many places throughout Africa, it is socially acceptable to talk to people in the street and even to talk about faith and religion.  In America, this is definitely out of the norm and would most likely not be received well but here, these conversations are not only acceptable but for many, they are welcome.  I love this difference between a cold culture and a warm culture.  However, it also means that less people would openly share about Jesus with people in the US and that is absolutely not the way it should be.  I remember my pastor challenging us with this question: if we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself; if people will know we are Christians by our love and one way of showing our love for Jesus is to obey and serve Him, just how loving are we as Christians if do not share about Jesus with people?  Are we just accepting the fact that people are not saved rather than being burdened for those who don't know Christ, thus casting a blind eye and a cold shoulder to those who are condemned to hell, eternal pain and suffering?  This is seriously a serious thing!  I will be the first to say that outright intentional evangelism is not something I have frequently had the boldness or burden to do, but the longer I am here, the more I desire to share Jesus and the more courage I have to do it.

After doing evangelism (rain or shine I might add), we gathered together to share testimonies and challenges from the morning, ate lunch of posho and beans (everyday sometimes more than once; this posho is definitely not something I will miss), and then had children's ministry and a teaching session done by one of the students.  At school here, I interact with the students a lot; some I have gotten to know better than others but I have some kind of relationship with all of them and genuinely treasure each of them so much!  However, most of the time they are in class or doing assignments so I have rarely seen them active in ministry.  Watching them share the Gospel with people in the village, preach or teach during the sessions and crusades, lead worship, do children's ministry, or serve in some other capacity during the week was amazing!  It was so exciting to hear their testimonies and to witness the miraculous transformation God has worked in each of their lives in one way or another.  I loved seeing their gifts in action and even stepping out of the comfort zone and into a role of leadership that they wouldn't normally do.  It was powerful and encouraging to be a part of this with them knowing that eventually they will go out to their people either in a local ministry or as a missionary!  The empowerment was beautiful!

Immediately after our afternoon teaching sessions, those involved in leading the crusade prepared to begin.  Crusades were not something I was at all familiar with before coming to Uganda but they are super common.  A group of Christians will set up machines (speakers) outside somewhere in an open space either around town or at a church and do praise and worship and dancing, sharing testimonies, and preaching.  The goal is to have it really loud so that people all around can hear it, come closer, and eventually receive Jesus during the Crusade.  Our crusades usually lasted from 4:30 to about 10pm or so.  We incorporated a lot of time for praying over people in addition to the other things.  Each night when we called people to receive prayer, some began manifesting demons.  Now, for those of you Americans who are reading please accept this with all seriousness.  Like many of you, I have never witnessed a demon manifesting in a person before which makes it easy to say that it doesn't happen anymore but I tell you most certainly, that it does.  I will not share the details of what it looks like but if you've ever read any passage in the Bible about them, that is enough of a description.  I have never witnessed so much evil right before my eyes and as we prayed over them, seeing just how much more powerful God is!  I really encountered God's power and mercy in a new and greater way throughout the week.  Each day about six to ten people were delivered from demons!!! Can you praise the Lord for that?!

During the crusade we ate supper, drank tea, and eventually when all was quiet again, went to bed.  The days were long, wet, and cold most of the time, but it was such a blessing and privilege to be there ministering alongside the students and staff and bringing the Gospel to this dark village.

I shared the specific story about Elton in a previous blog but I'll reiterate that he was a significant part of my week.  Another person who held another significance was a young girl named Lydia who as a baby was dedicated to Satan.  She manifested demons severely one night and I was closely involved with her deliverance.  The following night she manifested demons again as she came forward to prayer and I tell you as before, I have never seen evil like that before--we received threats from the demon as well as witnessed its screams and violence and facial distortion.  In the moment, I was confused why we had to pray for deliverance over her again and I must admit that I still don't fully understand it but my conclusion is that she had multiple demons.  If any of you have other thoughts, feel free to respond.  After two hours of praying over her and several others, peace came to chaos and those manifesting demons, including Lydia were delivered.

Sunday, half of us packed up early to head back as it had taken us a full day to get there and were expecting the same going back.  The other half remained and had church in the village and then a baptism for anyone who had accepted Christ during the week.  I don't know the number of people who ended up getting baptized but the ones we know got saved was around 40!!  Here's one of the salvation stories:   A couple had twins and were using witchcraft to protect them.  One of the groups of students went to share the Gospel with them regularly throughout the week and on Friday they received Christ!!  They gave up their witchcraft things which the students brought home and burned!!

In essence, the week we spent ministering to the people of Bukerekere was wonderfully hard on so many levels.  Physically it was cold and wet, with long days and short nights and yet, definitely not lacking in laughter and fun, wonderful conversations, bonding as a team, and just enjoying the beauty of the place we were in.  Emotionally, it made my heart happy to be there with my dear friends and community from home; drawing closer to many of them that I hadn't built much of a relationship with yet, and then on the other hand being simply heartbroken and sometimes angry with the lives and conditions of the people in the village.  Spiritually it was both encouraging and challenging as I was faced with many questions and really just had to do spiritually difficult things that I haven't done before all in the face of seeing some serious power of God in people's lives!  By the end of the week, I had a hope that for some season of my life, I would have the opportunity to live in a village as a missionary, to be able to share the light of Jesus in some dark, unreached place that most people don't even know about, but is known by our God and not been forgotten about.








October 13, 2016

Elton

Here is a story of a small boy from Bukerekere...

We arrived in Bukerekere for our week of outreach at around 11pm after a crazy journey.  There was a large group of children gathered at the house to greet us.  Each day of the outreach, this same group of kids joined by many others were always around our house, participating in children's times and the crusades and even some of the older ones went out evangelizing with the students in the mornings.  Monday morning, one small boy came up to me, grabbed my hand and started to follow me everywhere.  All day Monday, when I was at our house he was there following me or asking to be held or holding my hand.

Tuesday, I learned that this boy's name is Elton and he was born with AIDS.  Immediately I felt this deep tugging on my heart and burden to pray for him every moment I could.  He was always around me so it was easy to remember to pray for him.

On Wednesday, our hostess Joyce told me more of his story.  Elton is two years old and was abandoned when he was a young baby.  He stays at his jaaja's house, the mother of his father.  Joyce also told me that Elton has been calling me mommy since the first day; I had no idea as the local language in the village is Luganda.  From then, he learned my name and continued to call me mommy or mommy Ruth for the rest of the week.  I was afraid that the other children in the village who were around would be jealous of the special connection that Elton and I had made, but no such thing!  The children would purposely bring Elton to me when I returned home from doing outreach and we would all play together in the evenings.

On Thursday, I felt the Lord leading me to gather a small group of people to gather around him and pray for his healing.  So I spoke to the pastor in the village and our leaders about it and they agreed that it was ok.  We called Elton's jaaja to come so we could ask for permission to pray for him and to learn more from her about the situation.  She shared with us that Elton was dropped at her house when he was three months old.  She has no idea who the mother is by name and she and Elton's father, her son, are very young and were not married.  They have both disappeared and she does not know where either of them are right now.  This woman is young also, she still has a handful of young children of her own at home and doesn't look any older than her thirties.  Elton was born with AIDS but has been receiving treatment to keep him as healthy as possible.  However, I could see that the white of his eyes had a yellowish green tinge and is not so healthy as would be ideal; a given considering the circumstances.

Jaaja gave us permission to pray over him and joined with me and two other students.  We prayed over Elton and his family, his parents, his grandmother and grandfather as they provide for him.  We prayed that there would be peace and forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of a hard situation.  That any anger and bitterness that is there would go and especially for Jaaja that she would be able to care for the child well and with love and care despite how he came to be in her home.  I believe fully that God will heal this boy if He hasn't already and has begun healing the wounds and anger in the family already.  Elton's grandmother had not been participating in the crusades nor had she come around our compound at all since we arrived even though she lived right next door and within sight of what we were doing.  Our team was there until Sunday afternoon and she ended up joining us almost all day every day after this time of prayer on Thursday evening.  On Sunday morning before leaving, she helped me and another student gather some flowers to decorate our baptismal to be used later in the day and I tell you, there was transformation in her.  She was softer and her face had a new appearance--there was peace and a joy that hadn't been there before!

Elton continued to follow me around, holding my hand or asking to be held throughout the rest of the week.  I love this dear boy and continue to pray that God does miracles in his precious life.  No matter how he came into the world, God created him and loves him and has a purpose for his life.  I was blessed by him and hope that God has used me to bestow a priceless gift on his life.

Shifting

One thing I am realizing that I need to accept with the life and purpose I believe God has created me for is frequent shifting, transitions, helloes, and good byes.  I have lived many different places throughout the course of my life--in fact, employment applications that ask for every address within a certain time period are just a headache.  Thankfully, I likely won't beat my mother in the number of times moved, but seriously, 29 times in 28 years is still a bit excessive!

I enjoy change, the regular movement and growth that comes with living life.  I love meeting new and different kinds of people and building relationships with them.  I love seeing new places.  I love saying hello, but I despise saying goodbye!  With each transition there are always goodbyes.  Some permanent at least this side of heaven, others temporary.  But regardless, there are always tears, grief, and missing loved ones as well as greetings, excitement for the new, and meeting wonderful people wherever I go.

A few weeks ago, the Steiners returned to the US to have their baby in January!  I am so glad for how God worked things out for them in the midst of a potentially difficult situation.  Transitioning a whole family unexpectedly could be stressful and perhaps it was, but what I witnessed was great provision and a smooth transition for everyone involved.  From my end, there was sadness at having to say goodbye to dear friends.  It was hard saying goodbye to what had become my "Uganda family."  But in the midst of their transition, God also perfectly orchestrated my own.  He provided a lovely new home and even a girl to share it with!

I now live in a compound with another American family, the Greens, who are just the sweetest!  We now have a bunch of chickens, the dog Moose and puppy, Steve, and Jia's former cat, Elliot (it's a girl).  Mine and Ashley's new house has three rooms and little bathroom.  The rooms are all in a line: mine is off the bathroom, then the living room/kitchen, then Ashley's room.  The sink is outside which has taken some adapting to but still, our little house is wonderful!  It is in a Muslim neighborhood which is a bit more unsafe than where I was living before but so far the worst that's happened was during our first week here.  There was an influx of young men calling at the gate every day wondering if there were any rooms for rent.  One of them confessed that he wanted to live near the muzungu girls.  We got choose whether to laugh at the ridiculousness or be irritated with the circumstances.  I don't enjoy being constantly objectified by so many around me, but it seems to be one of the prices to pay for being in this line of work.

One thing I realized in the midst of the Steiners moving back to the US was how important it is to follow Jesus' example of sending missionaries out two by two.  I have always been of the heart and mind that I would not wait for my husband to get my life started; that I would live into God's call for my life now and follow wherever He leads even if that means going out alone.  But the more I spend time overseas and work as a missionary the more I see a need to join with someone who I hope would be my best friend and partner in life and ministry; to support and encourage and bless each other in the midst of what God has called us to do in our lives.  To be a living example of Christ and His church, His beloved.  This all might sound cliche, but I'm absolutely serious.  The pain of always having to say good bye to a close friend is a consistent struggle in this line of work; oh to have your closest friend and personal support beside you wherever the Lord brings you.  What an extraordinary gift that would be!

Whomever God has for me, I pray that I would be prepared to be the woman God wants me to be for him, to be able to fill this need for him that I have recognized so clearly and earnestly in my own life.  And that he would also be shaped into the man that God wants him to be for me.  Off and on over the last several years, I have considered marriage as a take it or leave it kind of thing.  It would be nice to be married but if that's not what God has, I'd embrace it with confidence.  Never before now, have I recognized the reality of our innate need for a life partner to love and to be loved by.  This thing that much of the world has twisted and distorted from its original creation; it is a need and a godly desire within me, no less significant than my call to be a missionary or any other part of God's purpose for my life.  And somewhere out there, there is someone who has the same need and desire that I pray will eventually be met in who God has made me to be and the lives we are meant to live.

And now I wait, patiently, for the Lord to move in this, seeking Him and being shaped by Him.