Monday, June 28, 2010

Be flexible!

So we're beginning our second week here in Arua. It feels like we've been here a month already because of how packed each day has been and how many people we're meeting and getting to know. Kevin has made a really great movie about our first couple days at

I'm debating what to talk about because there's just so much to say. We spent the last 2 days teaching at a church and secondary school. On Saturday we were at a church in Arua town that is being oppressed by the Muslim population. We were supposed to start at 9, sat around till 10, and started playing with kids until we finally got started at 11:30. Welcome to Uganda. The day didn't go as expected at all, but it was a great learning experience. We ended up having some pretty intense conversation with some church leaders which was very fruitful.

At the church while playing with a kids, I had my first experience with playing and holding little kids with rags for clothes and bloated bellies. Some babies didn't even have underwear, or just roamed around naked. Mothers and fathers have to spend all day working and the 3 and 4 year olds take care of their baby brothers and sisters for the day. While playing with them I just acted natural, smiled and held them. But on looking back at the experience, I began weeping because it broke my heart to actually touch these poor babies. In my head I kept screaming, "LORD, what can I DO?!" I don't know how to really show them Christ's love when I only have 1 hour with them. What is the Gospel for these children who may not even make it to the age of 5? God, help us. I'm overwhelmed and need to trust that he can work through me in the way that he sees fit. That's all I can do.

Yesterday we spent all day working with youth. We had sessions about developing Christian maturity and boy-girl relationships. We also led their service in the morning and Sean preached. The challenges of teaching in this culture are pretty intense: they give very little feedback, and won't tell you if they don't understand what you've said because they don't want to offend you. But the response they gave us after the service was positive and we feel that we were able to glorify God with our actions. Please continue to pray for us as we move forward and continue teaching and interacting with students and church leaders. It gets pretty tiring, but we know that God gives us the strength to keep working.

This week will be very busy. We're going on an overnight trip tomorrow (Tues-Wed) and teaching at another parish. Then we will be making a day trip on Friday and Saturday, one school and one parish. Then we will be leading a service on Sunday. I'm excited to teach more and see new areas of the country, but need God's strength to keep it up. We're really growing in our dependency on the Lord, and these people here keep us in prayer constantly. We know that what we're doing is not by our strength, and that is so freeing and refreshing to be constantly reminded of.

We've been hearing this so much from the kids: God is Good! (All the time!) All the time? (The Lord is good and that is his nature, Woo!) Amen, Amen.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Finally at home...away from home

Made it to Arua! We're currently at a internet cafe that is an hour walk from our home. Pretty crazy. Next time I'm hiring a bike or boda boda!

We're working with a man named Leviticus, who is the director of youth for the diocese, which covers pretty much all of Uganda that lies west of the Nile. We're doing day-long and overnight stays with him at different parishes around the closest districts of the diocese. We're staying on the property owned by the diocese main office, and the whole area around is a little community of people who work for the diocese, and also schools, a health center, and a guest house. Every time I walk around the property I see something new. But it feels very safe, and we're already getting comfortable and familiar with the area.

It's hard because it feels so right to be here, but it's so hard to be away from home. Walking around the compound and taking cold showers and not wearing make up just feels so natural, and like it should be. These people are so focused on prayer, it's awesome. And they're prayers are right on. There's such a healthy dependancy on God that I've already been learning from. The weird thing is that they are very materialistic too, just in the opposite way. We try to assure them that the US is spiritually in just as much trouble, if not more, because of the spiritual death among the all the wealth. Our houses seriously look like mansions, and thinking back to all that stuff I have and all the things we're going to buy for our home someday just about makes my stomach sick. It's going to be a struggle to know how to adapt to life now that I know what it's like to live on the other side. I'm sure that will only get harder as time passes.

Please continue to pray for us. We need support through the Lord from you as we really begin the busy part of our ministry soon and are feeling a little disconnected because of the lack of contact with home. But the Lord is faithful, and already doing many things in us and around us in the midst of our brokenness.



Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jambo, Mzungu!

We made it! And goodness gracious, what a long trip. We got here last night at 1 am Uganda time (which is 7 hours ahead) to conclude our 48 hour journey from New York City to Entebbe, Uganda. For a full explanation of all the insanity, visit our group blog at We're now at the Matoke Inn right outside of Kampala, it's about 10:30 pm, and my brain is spinning literally and figuratively.

First of all, the journey here was crazy and yet turned out to be one of the best learning experiences I've had so far. While standing in line for what seemed like an eternity and riding in shuttles to who-knows-where, we met a lot of very interesting people and learned more about what it means to love people whatever the circumstances and be open to ministry whenever the Lord leads. For some reason, before we left Pearl River I had this idea that I didn't have to start doing ministry until I was actually in Uganda. In my mind, I guess I was saving emotional and mental energy for the Ugandan people.

Boy, was I kicked out of that mindset through the whole experience. We had the opportunity of telling a few people (the ones from the many lines that we stood in) what we were traveling to Africa for, and how we had gotten where we were. From that moment on, I think we all felt the burden of the fact that we were representing Christ to those people around us. We all sucked it up and tried to put our frustrations aside, and ended up having some great conversations with complete strangers, who somehow became our fast friends. We met 2 African couples and 2 young African men in the process, and were able to learn from them. God was so amazing in giving us opportunities to love and learn in what seemed like a pretty crappy situation. That was such a blessing to me, and a great encouragement in looking forward. Yeah, KLM Flight 216!

Please continue to pray for us as we're encountering the culture for the first time, and continuing to get in the right mindset for ministry here. We had a great talk with the cab driver we met today, who was pumped to answer any questions about his home. But we're already starting to hear of the tribal revelry, the oppression of some people groups, and the lack of adequate resources for many things. Please pray that we would be continually seeking God in prayer and in his Word, since this is the only way we will really be able to minister to people in a culture that is not native to us.

I often find myself thinking...What do I have to offer these people? Why am I here when there are people already so many whites here doing ministry, as well as many that are Ugandan. God has begun to show me that I may have had some mixed motives in the whole decision to come. However, I want to trust that God is ultimately the one that has called the four of us to be here, even though I don't know the reason right now. May we continually be pouring out ourselves so that we can be full vessels of God's grace, no matter what form that may take.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

And so it begins....

The first thought that came to my mind as I awoke this morning with a start was, "Holy crap. I'm actually doing this?!"

Pearl River, NY isn't exactly what I expected. Residential, quaint, and yet this office is a little island of a culture all its own. We got here Monday around 2 and began all sorts of sessions about team building, culture, worldview, flight itineraries, and budgets. We got our potential teaching material and started looking over it as well to see what good stuff we could find. It'll take some prayer and a lot of creativity, but we may be able to make it work. :) AIM (Africa Inland Mission) has its own headquarters here with conference rooms, a dining hall, and lots of guest rooms. The people bustle around busily, but take time to stop and talk to you about the goodness of God they've seen through their work. They also don't seem quite as concerned about time, and have staff tea time at 3 everyday. A little mixture of African and US culture, I'd say. But, I'm soaking it in as much as I can and enjoying the flushable toilets and hot running water while it's available!

We leave tomorrow in a taxi at 2 for the airport to fly out at 6:30 from JFK. A taxi to NYC? That experience could be exciting enough for this down-home West Virginian. Anyway, we fly to Amsterdam and then on to Entebbe, Uganda. We'll stay the night in Entebbe, then drive to Kampala where the central office is located for a day of on-field training. THEN we take a 7 hour bus trip to Arua, our temporary home, on Saturday. I'll be glad when we just get there. I'm feeling a bit apprehensive about traveling, and not too excited about all the things that could happen on an international flight...but I'm in God's hands, where He wants me to be. And while we know that that may not always be the safest place physically, our hearts and spirits are safe there.

So many thoughts and questions are racing around my head right now. Most of them have to do stuff I've packed, flight itineraries, and other little details. But we've also been presented with a ton of material and things to think through today about our mission, and why we're here. I've been overwhelmed at times with a sense of inadequacy and ignorance about this trip. I feel completely unprepared and naive about everything at this point. On top of that, my normal support system that I love so dearly is at home.

So here I am, toes over the cliff, just waiting to jump in to Abba's arms. But let me tell you,'s scary. I know I'm supposed to say that I trust God and love him so much that it's like stepping into romantic embrace or something. And hopefully I'll look back and be able to see that it was. But on this end, I'm sweating, crying, and biting my fingernails and asking if He's sure He can catch me. I've just never pushed myself to really rely on him for anything so big. There's nothing wrong with safety nets and a back-up plan, right? Well...what if there isn't. What if I have nothing to teach these people? What if our lessons flop at every school? What if I am incapable of loving them? What if I lose all my belongings and am stranded? What if my health and life are called in to question?

God is still calling me and asking me to do this with him when the answers to these questions are uncertain. I praise him and thank him for the opportunity to do this. It's already shown me so much about where my trust and security is, and how I value my life and comfort. I'm excited to see what else is in store and am so anxious to get there, but I pray that I really take in these lessons first.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Looking forward

Countdown: 1 week, 3 days. Toothpaste? Check. Soap? Check. More disinfectant and hand sanitizer than I could ever use in 8 weeks? Check.

I thought it might be a good idea to start this whole thing with some thoughts on how I'm feeling looking forward to this crazy adventure to Uganda.

First of all, it's really crazy to think that we've been thinking about this trip and planning it for something like a year and a half. I had heard stories of Uganda, looked at mission organizations websites, watched the Invisible Children movie, seen pictures of the death and starvation, and for some reason my heart almost exploded when I thought about the opportunity to serve there. Looking that far ahead, I really had no concept of what it would be like to actually prepare myself to leave, raise support, or realize I am leaving my comfortable life for 8 weeks.

I think that back then, I just wanted something to shake me out of my comfort zone and force me to face the realities of a world I know next to nothing about. I have always fallen in to the temptation to become content and simply blend in to the world around me. I've been praying that God would use this opportunity to help me see Him in a different way. I want to ask hard questions about the culture I live in and the ways it has affected my understanding of God and humanity, and I want to see and understand the way my brothers and sisters in a very different culture understand and relate to our Father. Needless to say, in looking far ahead, I was thinking mostly about myself (that's certainly never happened before ;) ) and the ways that God and I could grow together through this kind of experience.

A big shift that's happened over the past couple months is the fact that I have much more of a burden for the people of Uganda to know the Gospel by the grace God working through me while I'm there. I know that sounds pretty elementary, and I could easily say that that's been my desire all along. But in reality, I'm actually starting feel the burden for real now. I'm so excited to meet my brothers and sisters and make new relationships where God will be glorified and the love of Jesus Christ can be shared. I want to love them even before I meet them, and keep their eternity, not just mine, in the forefront of my heart and mind.

On top of the changes in my heart and motives, I'm also starting to be a bit more apprehensive about leaving my family and fiance for that long. Granted, when I made these plans to take an 8 week trip there was no Shawn Woods in the picture. But now that there is a Shawn (and aren't we all so pumped that there is? :D), I'm really excited as to the ways this trip can help us to grow together as well. I've never been away from my family for that long either, which is kind of intimidating. I'm sure that this whole experience will give me an opportunity to trust God for my security and fulfillment without those close relationships around me constantly.

Praise God for a challenge, right?