Saying Goodbye… for now

IMG_9569 IMG_9864IMG_9297 IMG_9004 IMG_8899 IMG_8863 FullSizeRender (1) FullSizeRender IMG_9366 IMG_9493

And just like that, the three-month-turned-six-month experiment comes to an end. We leave Uganda on Sunday, and this week has been a series of goodbyes, in the congregation and in the ministry. Today I gave one of my newest studies my own bible, because she has been praying for one and because they are always in short supply here. She was overjoyed, she kept hugging me and thanking me, I almost started crying. Such a simple thing, my old dirty worn in bible, and she was so grateful.

I’ve handed over most of my progressive studies now, so I’m happy they are in good hands and I pray they will continue to make progress. One of them, Sowed, I’m most amazed by. He was raised Muslim (you can tell because of the name, everyone tells me) but at 17-years old he is so hungry for Bible truths. When I met him in January, the first lesson he picked in the Good News brochure was lesson 10. Whoa. I handed him over to another need greater brother who continued studying with him until he left, and I picked back up. He is a deep thinker and reasons and then accepts what he reads in the Bible. He was so grateful he got his own Bible, and he started reading it right away. He started coming to Sunday meetings, and soon after his little 10-year old sister asked if she could study too. Now they both come on Sundays and they just brought their 18-year old sister with them last Sunday and then asked if I could study with them together after the meeting! I’m going to miss all three of them so much.

If I haven’t said it before (I have) – it’s been such a wonderful experience to be here. The brothers and sisters thank us for our sacrifice in being here, and most of the time we feel like “what sacrifice?” Yes we gave up jobs and material comforts, we are living in less than optimal conditions, we walk a lot and get dirty and sweaty and rained on, the roads have more potholes than Detroit (if that’s possible) and I probably get ripped off by someone at least once a day. But still we think, what sacrifice? We have been overwhelmingly blessed by being here, of that we are all very much aware. What you’ve heard is true, when you put yourself in an situation to be blessed, Jehovah gives until there is no more want. For the first time since pioneer school in 2004 (and maybe even before that) my ministry felt alive! Finding so many people interested in learning what the bible has to say, finally learning the truth about God, really showed me the urgency of our work. It also made the truth that more real to me, being given opportunities to defend my faith. Learning to use lesser known verses, answering questions about fasting, testimony, tithing, and so on, has broadened my bank of go-to scriptures. And besides the ministry, meeting like minded brothers and sisters from all over the world who have also chosen to volunteer their time in Uganda has really enriched the experience. Last Saturday we spent the evening with people from England, Denmark, America, Rwanda, and Uganda all with a common purpose, and we had a mighty good time.

It is still my plan to come back next year, as soon as I find a job and save up some money. But even if something drastic happens and I’m not able to come back that soon or at all, I will never regret a moment I spent here. And if you’re reading this thinking about maybe serving in Uganda or anywhere else, I hope this is the extra push you need to go for it. It will be your best decision ever!

We are leaving Uganda, but not headed home quite yet. We are going to take a little (big) detour through Europe before landing in Croatia for the Special Convention in Zagreb (another huge blessing!!). I probably won’t be posting much here anymore but I wanted to say thanks for following the blog and Instagram, and I hope to see you all in person very soon!

Proud Mama

I’m a proud mama bear after this week, I just had to share.

Regina is 17 and has been studying with me since February. She has a ten-month old baby girl as a result of being taken advantage of after school by some boys on the road. She has since dropped out of school, and lives a difficult life with people who aren’t her family, as she tries to find work and give financial support to her mother. We study twice a week, and despite all the obstacles, slowly you can see her building a storehouse of knowledge from studying the Bible. Over the past few weeks we’ve had a few false starts for coming to the Sunday meeting, but finally this past Sunday she was ready. She feared she didn’t have anything appropriate to wear or money to buy any clothes but I assured her she was fine. I happily got a couple of skirts taken in by a local seamstress in case she needed options. By 1:30 she was ready and we headed in a taxi towards the hall. She was so attentive, looking up the scriptures, nodding her head during the talk, and her baby was so well behaved for her first time, sitting mostly still and quiet for the entire program! After the meeting Regina asked why no one was asking her for money for her attendance, so I explained how everything is supported by voluntary donations, and people only give out of their heart. I pointed her to the contribution boxes and explained that no one watches people contribute or counts how much. Then she slowly unzipped a pocket in her baby’s pants and pulled out 100 shillings. “I want to donate this, which box do I put it in?” I was so touched by her appreciation, I tried to hide my beaming face and told her it was up to her to choose. Even typing this I’m just so impressed by her willingness to give money that was truly out of her want. It made me think about my own monetary contributions.

The second story I want to tell is about Arthur, a young brother in our hall who is 16. After the meeting our service group shared a snack together and he told us the story of how he started studying. It began when he was 8 years old and witnesses came to his door. While his mother was polite, he was ecstatic to receive the My Book of Bible Stories book, and begged his mother to tell him when the witnesses would come again. Since then he has been studying, and is now an unbaptized publisher who uses his vacation time in the ministry. Now that he is in secondary school, he and nine other witnesses formed a group at school, and formulated a plan to go “class-to-class” witnessing to all their schoolmates. He said their first time was very successful and they are looking forward to doing it again.

Felicia also a great story about a 11-year old study named Sheila (I’ll let her tell you about her) and I’ve just started a study with a 9-year old sweetie pie named Gloria. I know I am always taking pictures of babies and young kids here because there are literally thousands of them, walking the street, going to the shop, playing games and being adorable, but I am continually impressed at the seriousness with which these very young children take the Bible.

Seeking Peace in Uganda

IMG_9077
The need greaters of Kampala Southwest

We couldn’t have planned it better, almost book-ending our trip with circuit assemblies. In January, just three days after arriving, dewy-eyed and sleepy and not knowing what to expect, we sat in an expandable kingdom hall on backless wooden benches and learned about seeking righteousness. We climbed what felt at the time an insurmountable mountain to reach the venue. Everyone was a stranger – well not a stranger, but not yet a friend – and we were a little overwhelmed by just about everything, and for me especially all the babies.

We’ve grown a lot since then. I still see tons of babies but now I just hashtag them #babiesofkampala and pinch their cheeks. We have visited different congregations, made friends with many, entertained and broken bread with a few. Service has made us feel immeasurably more comfortable, including knowing how to adapt to the culture, and the delicate slowness with which everyone speaks and greets. We’ve also mastered transportation, cramming into taxis, sharing a seat with a person AND a chicken, and then riding a motorcycle taxi on a road that wouldn’t be called a road anywhere else on Earth.

IMG_9049
expandable kingdom hall in Kajjansi
IMG_9017
backless wooden benches, and the sister in front of us throwing down for lunch!
IMG_9014
Lunch time!

So here we are five months later, maneuvering our way to Kajjansi on our own, even deftly identifying a very shady taxi situation, and commanding bodas to take us up the hill with just the lift of an eyebrow, arriving to the assembly site early, waving hello to people we know, before grabbing our queen baby Miriam, and settling in on the wooden benches before the music starts. The program was spiritually right on time, as it always is, and after the assembly we said more hellos, and sadly even some goodbyes for those we might not see again before we leave. We had 645 in attendance and seven baptized. The circuit overseer reminded us of the tremendous growth here – 1 or 2 English congregations formed every year, including a new one formed as of May 1st, and a sustainable 20% increase in publishers. The harvest is great and the workers are few (they reached a peak of 6841 publishers in March – that’s for the country!). I’m more motivated than ever to go out in the ministry for the rest of the month, and for June too.

Six weeks left on this adventure; I’m not counting down, just wrapping around my head around that imminent fact. I have exciting plans for this summer that I’m really looking forward to, including being a delegate in Croatia in August (#blessed). But as I contemplate where we are in the stream of time and my desire to remain in full-time service, I can’t help but think I’ve found the place to do it.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Africa living ain’t for everyone, and some days it ain’t for me either. There are a lot of things I plan to do differently if and when I return, including getting hot water, and buying a mosquito net without giant holes in it, and even then I’ll probably still have some no-good very bad days where I cry in frustration in how not like home it is here. But you don’t move to serve where the need is great because things are like home. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.

Putting our lives in Jehovah’s hands is really the best decision any of us can make. My desire is to continue this experience again soon. Sure would be (even more) fun if you joined me!

It’s been an excellent adventure with these two!
IMG_9057
Sister Mary from Makindye congregration, she’s originally from Rwanda.
IMG_9072
Group selfie walking down that crazy hill
IMG_9019
The sisters of Kampala Southwest

Coffee & Samosas

The title is in reference to my breakfast this morning. Dear stomach, I’m so sorry.

April has come and gone, and it was a month of ups and downs. The ups being service as always, with the Memorial, studies progressing, and even getting to take a couple of them to Bethel at the end of the month. The downs being more physical for me, with battles with viruses and extended sickness, and weird rashes and feeling a little rundown. Overall though, a good – no great – month.

Felicia has been having a lot of success in an unexpected territory – French! She thought she had left it all behind, but she has continued to run into Congolese people in our territory. One time while doing public witnessing, a woman came up to the cart asking if she had the book in French, because the copy she had was destroyed in a fire in Congo. After telling her they could order it for her, she burst into tears, so happy that she had found witnesses in Uganda. Arrangements have been made for her to be visited.

Candice has a study, Rukia, from a Muslim background who came to the memorial. When she first met her, she didn’t even know how to open the bible. Flash forward to last weekend when we visited another congregation, Rukia attended our meeting on our own, and asked for (and received!) a new bible. This week she had her first study using it and made good use of the table of contents, glossary and footnotes. This is especially awesome because here, we can’t really distribute bibles in the ministry to any one who asks because of a lack of supply. Studies must show demonstrated interest by attending meetings – and Rukia did so on her own. Go Rukia!

This month working with the magazines has been wonderful. You could ask the question on the front of the Watchtower – “would you like to study the Bible?” and 95% of the time the answer was yes. I’ve been able to develop a dozen or so new return visits using this method, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

We were able to experience the hospitality of the Nansana congregation last weekend, one of the other congregations we wrote to before our arrival here. They had a lovely spirit, and an amazing study ratio – 36 publishers and 136 bible studies! The majority of them attend the meetings, so afterwards we were able to sit in on or conduct a few studies to “help them out” (but it was really helping us reach our monthly hourly goal.) Afterwards we visited the home of the coordinator, and ate deliciously grilled chicken and pork, while singing along to some sweet tunes by a Swedish couple in the congregation. A slice of paradise.

Meanwhile here we are, over the halfway point of our journey. I feel repetitive in saying how many days I still can’t believe I’m in Uganda, or that this is our territory where you can literally start a bible study every time you step outside your door. It’s all been amazing. Looking forward to the last two months (circuit assembly, a safari, a trip out to Eastern Uganda) and hopefully coming back in 2016.

Moving, Shifting and Appreciating

We had a great special talk given by our coordinator yesterday. Candice, Felicia and I all had studies who attended and nodded along appreciatively as he talked about how families could be happy now. Afterwards my study Naomi stayed as the congregation watched the April broadcast. I’m so happy she is already making friends.

Now that we are firmly entrenched in our fourth month here, not much is culture shock anymore. I’m used to seeing little naked babies walking the streets by themselves, moms breastfeeding everywhere (including the front row of the hall!) scoffing at any price initially given and offering half (I’ve actually come to love haggling, who knew) watching people prepare full meals on a small charcoal stove, all of our neighbors greeting us “welcome back” anytime we go anywhere for more than four hours. We have a popcorn girl on the corner, a chip(fries) girl around the block, and a fish lady right next door. Everyone knows us as the three mzungus living at Madam Sempa’s house (our landlady/sister was the first house in the neighborhood, so you can even direct a motorcycle taxi to “Namasuba para zone, Madam Sempa’s house” and get dropped off right out front). One night when we ordered chips, she asked “is the dog out? Can the boy just bring them to you?” We didn’t even know we had a dog until a month ago, but our neighbors know about the dog and the time he is put out.

Anyway.

There are a few things that I don’t think I’ll get used to, they will just be those things I experienced or heard in Uganda and never anywhere else. And I’ll probably miss them the most when I get home. These things are listed as follows, although the list is not exhaustive, because I should be getting ready for service and not writing them down:

Young kids bowing to you when you approach them. It’s mostly those that are part of the buganda tribe as a traditional greeting, but it still shocks me every time. I never know what to say – thank you? Get up? Well done? I usually just smile and nod.

The English language. English is the second official language in the country, so it’s not shocking that people speak it, it’s the alteration of meanings of words. For example, when people say move they mean walk. “Why are you moving while you’re eating?” “Do you want to move together to town?” I’m always thinking about picking up my belongings, but really they just mean moving your body. And what do you say if you actually want to move houses? Shifting. Ay yi yi. So when I come home talking about when I plan to shift, you’ll know it’s just a Ugandan quirk I picked up along the way.

Greetings. I may have talked about this before, but the greetings here are long, drawn out, not always purposeful. It has taken an adjustment for my ministry, where I’m used to jumping straight to the point. But when you greet someone, you might first say “Jeebale ko” (Well done), and they will say this back to you. Then you can greet in a variety of ways – how are you? how is here? how is home? how are the children? how are the goats? how are the chickens? how are the cows? In the villages this can go on for five minutes. Now you may proceed with what you want to talk about. It’s the most relaxed conversation you’ll ever have with a stranger.

Thank yous. Being here has taught me to be very appreciative. Everyone is so thankful for everything! When you arrive at the meeting – thank you for coming. When we arrived in the country – thank you for your sacrifice. When you comment – thank you for your expressions. When you THANK SOMEONE – thank you for appreciating. It’s like a game of volleyball, and no one drops the thank you. I actually love this, and though it still makes me laugh, it’s something I hope I take home with me.

We’ve just coerced our Monday service group to move from 9am to 9:30, so I guess I shouldn’t be late. April is almost half over and there are mornings when I wake up to the sounds of bird that sounds like a monkey, or a rooster that sounds like a dog and I’ll say to myself with a sigh, “you’re in Africa.” But this morning I woke up early, braved my cold shower like a boss, made good coffee and got prepared for my day. I’m in Africa!