Putting it Perspective

Thanks to Timehop and Facebook I’ve been reminded lately that a year ago we were headed off to Uganda. I’m trying to remember the emotions I had back then, if I was nervous about the unknowns or just excited to let the adventure begin. I’m betting it was 90% the latter and only 10% the former.

Crazy how fast a year flies, especially when you’re spending time giving time to others. Now that I’ve been home for 4 months I’ve had time to sort through all the feelings I had about living in the pearl of Africa. There were a lot of positives and some negatives and I’d love to do it all again, but I’m not sure that I will. Random thoughts follow.

We were very much living like locals. Our place was small and not very comfortable. When we arrived we were okay with it because its what we expected. But the longer we spent there we realized that some of our return visits and bible studies were living better than us! We missed having a sitting area that wasn’t a bed or the floor. We missed having a kitchen inside our house, and hot water. After walking for 10+ miles on a hot dusty day, expending yourself in the ministry and talking yourself hoarse, we realized how much we missed comfort. But despite what you might think about one of the poorest countries in the world, you can be comfortable and at a price much lower than anywhere else. We met brothers and sisters who had beautiful furniture custom made for them – beds, dining room tables, couches – all for the price of IKEA furniture at home. We met a couple from England who were basically living in my new world house, and they had built it for pennies on the pound. So lesson learned. When you are in an assignment, small things like comfort matter and go a long way in helping the adjustment to a new place.

I miss the ministry so so so so so much. So much I don’t even like to talk about it when I’m here because I feel like I’ll be discouraging in a territory that is less than fruitful. A circuit overseer in Germany told us to be happy in whatever assignment we find ourselves in at the moment, and I’m starting to see how wise and true that advice is. But back to the paradisaical ministry that is Uganda. If ever you’ve wanted to preach to people spiritually thirsty, learn and use your bible backwards and forwards, wear out the spine on your Bible, fall in love with the Good News brochure… fly, don’t walk to Uganda. With a ratio of 1 publisher to 6,000 Ugandans, you have your work cut out for you.

All three of us left full time jobs to go preach, something that might seem crazy to anyone that doesn’t know our God. Because life was cheaper, we were all able to live off our savings for the most part. But remember that watchtower about seeing Jehovah’s blessings in your life? We saw them there and we saw them when we got home. We all returned to either the same jobs or better! My old company emailed me and asked if I would come back and help during the busy season. I returned to work not a week after our #worldtour, and then just last month traded up to a new part-time opportunity that works a lot better with my service schedule. Truly amazing.

We were in a congregation that only recently started having need-greaters a year before, while other congregations in the area were used to having brothers and sisters from England, Scandinavia, Canada on a regular basis. That was a challenge and a blessing. I guess you could say we broke them in to the ways of foreigners. While it helped open our eyes to the worldwide organization, I would venture to say it did that on even a larger scale for our beloved Southwest congregation. With only 30 publishers and 12 of them pioneering, I loved the zeal they all displayed. They had over 100 bible studies, so clearly the work was great. But despite oppressive weather in the dry season, and muddy condition during the rainy season they maintained their industriousness and ministry. All after waking up at 4am to do laundry and they somehow managed to be on time for the meetings for service! There were many examples of faith that I can imitate in that congregation. Sometimes I think we were sent there to help mellow them out and show them how to have a little bit of fun. And to teach them patience when we ran late for …. everything. Let’s call it balance. Because the truth is so new to the country itself, I think it is something they are still learning. Thankfully I’m able to keep in touch with quite a few in our congregation on Whatsapp. They all keep asking when I’m coming back.

Which, amusingly, is the same question everyone at home keeps asking me – when am I going back? (Are you guys ready to get rid of me already?) I wish it was that simple. If money wasn’t an issue I’d be there in a heartbeat. But I’d also be in Namibia, Congo, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador….you get the idea. A blessing to have so many places to go and preach, but difficult at the same time to choose one. I would like to make a more permanent move somewhere, but in a place where I can support the congregation and myself. I think I could commit to long term stint in East Africa if I were married, but as it stands I’m not, and you can’t ask even the best of friend to commit to whatever I want to do for the rest of their lives. (I checked. She said no.)

So for now I’m home, practicing contentment and wishing away Winter. I’ll never regret even a second of anything I was able to do this year, and as far as years go, that is as good as it gets.

Saying Goodbye… for now

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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

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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.

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expandable kingdom hall in Kajjansi
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backless wooden benches, and the sister in front of us throwing down for lunch!
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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!
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Sister Mary from Makindye congregration, she’s originally from Rwanda.
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Group selfie walking down that crazy hill
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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.