Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Perks of Living Here

 


    You know how even if you’re going through some rough patches in life, as long as you know they have purpose and what you’re doing with your life is of value and meaning, then even in those darker times, you can have utter joy and peace? I had one of those sweet realizations today after a visit with a neighbor friend. Let me tell you her story.

    In January, this friend of mine (Grace) traveled to Juba for an eye check up and cataract surgery. Her family is South Sudanese and she lives right down the road from us. When COVID got serious and South Sudan and Uganda closed their borders, Grace AND her husband who works in South Sudan both got stuck in South Sudan. Their 8 children were stuck here in Adjumani. Grace had NO WAY to get to her children. Can you imagine? Her oldest is 19 and the youngest, 8. So for 8 months now, they’ve been living countries apart. These kids play with my boys and when I found out their parents were stuck in Juba (S. Sudan), I told them that if they needed anything – if they got sick or ran out of food – to not be afraid to come tell us. So over the last few months we’ve been helping with medical check ups, medicines, food, new shoes, even haircuts! Grace finally found a way to get home (that’s a long, tense story in itself: sneaking across the border late at night, bribing soldiers, enduring 2 weeks of quarantine in a refugee camp, etc.) and she is sooo happy to be home with her children. She came over to see me today and thanked me with all her heart for what we did for her kids. I told her I hope someone would do the same thing for me if I was separated from my kids. I also affirmed what brave, courageous, strong children she had. They did so well while she was away. They tried to keep up with their studies even though schools are closed, they took care of their animals: pigs, chickens and pigeons, and SURVIVED! The thing that meant so much to me today was that Grace shared that she believes God brought us here for many reasons – one of them – to minister and care for her family when they needed it. If we didn’t live here, we wouldn’t get to help in these practical ways.

    Another story. I hope you realize that I don’t share these stories to give myself a pat on the back. Each and every one of these situations GOD brought to us and we have trusted God daily with how to help and be Jesus to our community. This story involves my friend Berish. Back in May she found out she was pregnant and wanted to abort the baby because she was in a terrible marriage. She couldn’t find a way to do it so she decided to kill herself instead. One day, I felt compelled to go check in on her and didn’t know that at the very moment I showed up at her door, she came charging out and was heading to a pharmacy to buy what she needed to kill herself. When I realized that was what she wanted to do, I refused to leave her side…even though it was raining and getting dark. Finally I was able to coax her to come home with me and stay with us for the night. That turned into a week. During that week I poured into her with God’s Word, prayer and lots of love through food and quality together. Fast forward to September. She decided to leave her marriage (he left her a while ago without even telling her where he was going, without leaving any food or money in the house), she has started her business up again, a little shop in a town 15 min away where her mom lives, and she is now a blossoming 7 month pregnant mama. I got to go baby shopping with her a few weeks ago and we bought the necessities and oooh-ed and aaah-ed over baby clothes. She is actually excited to meet this little baby, even though she’s also nervous how she’s going to properly care for him without a husband/father. But I believe it’s because we live here in this little community that God brings these unique opportunities and people are turning to Jesus and living for Him now and we’re seeing beautiful things happen. If I wasn’t out with my neighbors I wouldn’t know of their struggles. I wouldn’t get to have a part in their lives. But because this is our life, our home, we get to share day to day with people who need Jesus so badly.

    Now a story from Eli. A major problem we’ve seen since moving to Uganda two years ago is that there are a lot of men who call themselves “pastors” and lead churches of their own but have had no Bible training. Many of them are out to make a living from their congregation. Many are preaching heresy. In the last year, Eli has had 100 (give or take) students who are lay leaders and pastors who don’t have much Bible training. Even during the COVID lock downs, they have persevered with their studies to be better equipped to teach their congregations and to know how to preach God’s Word. When I think of how many friends of mine who have been hurt by so-called pastors, I’m so thankful that there will be 100 less of those, thanks to this theology program Eli is running. In December this first group in our district in Uganda will graduate and a second group in South Sudan graduates as well.

     On days like this I think of our donors. I sure don’t feel like I’m very good at writing prayer letters or special thank you notes to keep in touch. I feel like it’s so hard to properly communicate how important this partnership is. They are the senders but also the SUSTAINERS - the ones who keep us here. We truly could NOT be here if it wasn’t for our churches and individual supporters back home who give every month to join us in our ministry here. So thank you to each of you. I wish you could see how key it is that we LIVE here, day in and day out. I wish you could see the faces of the people in my stories and hear their testimonies. We are so grateful we get to be here. Please know that even when we share about the tough things going on, we are so so glad to be here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

An unexpected fork in the road


 A few weeks ago I hung some Scriptures on the wall in our bedroom about suffering, including the verse above, Psalm 34:18. Little did I know how much this would comfort me in the days to come, reminding me of God's nearness in my current heart break. Let me explain.

Almost 3 weeks ago, our 14 year old son fell off his motorcycle and badly injured his knee. We couldn't tell what was injured on the inside but he had a nasty wound on his knee that went pretty deep. We were doing our best to care for it but his leg and foot started swelling, even 4 days later, so we decided to go to the capital city to get an orthopedist to look at it. Thankfully there was no infection but he had a small crack in the bone below his knee so he was given a brace over his knee to keep his leg straight and crutches to keep his weight off his leg.

When we packed for Kampala, I went ahead and brought clothes for a week for everyone plus our bag for the baby we're adopting, because the paperwork was done and we knew we could get the call any day to go pick up the child. Every day the wait felt like forever. Then on Friday, our adoption agency asked if they could call us that evening. I knew something big was up. I was hoping it was good news. We were ready. My parents had even come from their town in western Uganda to help with the boys. But the phone call revealed devastating news. The medical report had arrived for the little girl we were hoping to adopt and it showed that she has cerebral palsy and severe mental handicap. We are not approved in our home study for children with special medical needs. And because of where we live, we know we don't have the resources to care for a child with those needs. I really can't find the words to express how it felt to hear that. 1.) because we so badly long for that little girl to be adopted and have a forever family and 2.) because after 11 long months of waiting, staying up late filling out paper work, calling and texting and emailing back and forth with our agency, etc, we were back at square one. We had our suitcase full or little girl clothes, her car seat, and we anticipated returning home to Adjumani with her. Kenzie, the little girl I'd already fallen in love with, prayed for and ached for, didn't get to come home with us.

The drive home to Adjumani on Sunday felt extra long as I spent many of those hours looking out my window, all my thoughts and feelings swirling around. I want to process this and allow myself to grieve but I'm also scared of the downward spiral. I kept going back and forth in my mind - playing through all the reasons I should be sad, disappointed, even angry. But also knowing that we still have hope that God has a child meant for our family. Acknowledging that I have soooo much to be thankful for - a life of fulfillment and purpose, a family I love with all my heart and an incredible community. 

So for the time being our baby clothes and toys are packed away. The suitcase I'd packed with everything we might need that first week with our new child is stowed under our bed. Right now I know I'm meant to be ALL HERE for my family and ministry that God has for me in the present. But I can honestly tell you that I KNOW our new family member is coming. God has not closed that door and He has not released Eli and I from the calling to adopt from Uganda. 

Well, online school started for Isaac, Evan and Joshua yesterday on August 31. They will do first term of the school year here at home, online, and hopefully will be able to go back to school in Kenya in January. They are missing their friends and all the activities and sports. But this mama is sure enjoying having them home. 



So far so good. Eli is busy pushing his Bible students through their program so they can graduate their first group of students by December. I will continue to lead the Bible study for the young women (youth) in our church and disciple the few ladies that God has put in my life. 

Life goes on.




Saturday, August 15, 2020

Waiting


This has been a hard month emotionally for me (Bethany). This is the month we're hoping to meet and bring home our new daughter. It might still work out for August but we have experienced so many unexpected delays and disappointments in the last weeks. I'm so thankful for dear friends who keep reminding me that God always has the right time picked and it's vital we trust as we're waiting.

I think another reason these days have been emotional for me is because I've been thinking of the depth and magnitude of how meeting this 10 month old baby girl and bringing her home with us, will rock her world and all she's ever known. In taking her from the orphanage, we are causing her pain even though in the end it will be for her own good. Even as a baby under one year, she knows faces and places and routines and we're going to take here away from all of that and everything will be so new. So I've been covering every detail in prayer, especially her little heart.

I've also done everything I can to prepare. I've read articles on post-placement bonding and attachment. I've prayed. I've bought, washed and packed baby clothes so we'll be ready to go as soon as we get the green light from the adoption agency. I've even talked to Carson about his baby sister and tried to help him understand that we're going to have a baby soon.

Besides these things, I'm thankful we've had some other distractions this month.

1. Isaac's friend Jonathan has spent the last 3 weeks with us in Adjumani and it's been great for our boys.

2. We've had a bunch of company lately. I'm currently cooking for 14 and 3 of those 14 are ages 1, 2, and 3 so the little are keeping us busy.

I'm thankful for the ways God keeps me going. If you're reading this, will you please pause to pray for our little girl? I am saddened by every day that passes without her in our family. We are getting very close. Pray that we can go to get her the week of Aug. 25.

We'll let you know how things go. Hopefully my next post will include photos of our girl.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

August


We finished the month of July spending a marvelous time together with our good friends the Greene family at the Nile River

Emily and I have been best friends since high school! Now our sons are best friends too.
The rainy season brings some interesting challenges


We brought Jonathan back with us after our vacation together to give him a taste of Adjumani
The evenings have been lovely weather for family walks

Eating out at a place in town


Isaac got his own motorcycle for his 16th birthday in July so now we have 3 riders in our family


 

Monday, July 13, 2020

What has Corona meant for us here in our corner of N. Uganda?

Lots of people have asked what this season of life has been like for us where we live. So I wanted to show you bits and pieces of our life from June and July - through photos of course!

Carson and his buddy Timothy
Carson is now 2 years old and talking and singing all day long. He does everything 150% and at high volume. It's been fun to watch him make friends and enjoy playing.


Carson and I went to visit our pastor's family a few weeks ago and had a lovely time.

Our pastor's wife, Agnes


Isaac and I drove an hour out of town to the middle of nowhere to visit our good friends who are farming out there during the rainy season. It was a fun adventure complete with muddy roads, getting stuck, and learning how to harvest cassava.



Isaac's friend Godfrey made his own little shelter near his garden to give him some shade


Isaac and Evan have a constant mechanic shop going on behind our house. This old moped has demanded a lot of TLC but they finally got it running.



For Eli and my 18th wedding anniversary, our boys served us a delicious meal and gave us a restaurant experience right in our own home!


Since it's rainy season we're enjoying growing some veggies in our garden.




Eli and a couple of local pastors continue to distribute food to the really needy in our district. They even crossed the Nile River to a more remote refugee settlement to give food last week.


We've had to be a little creative for getting a break. As long as we're home, ministry never stops. This one Sunday we drove to nearby Forest Reserve and hiked around and enjoyed a picnic on the roof rack of our truck. 



A new development for me has been a discipleship group with the young ladies in our church. We had a tea party in June and have now started a weekly Bible study at our home.




I don't even know what to write for a caption for this disgusting photo!

The boys engineered this fun trailer they can pull with their bikes. It's already been very helpful for market runs and kid rides. 




One day the youth from our church invited Eli and I to help plant fruit trees on our new church property

We used cow manure to fertilize 
Joshua continues to raise chickens. He now has special layer hens who are providing us with delicious eggs every day.

We have another animal lover!




Adoption Paperwork Complete!
Lastly, and possibly most exciting, our adoption paperwork is now complete and an investigation is under way on a little girl in an orphanage. Once we are officially matched we will share more details, but for now we are so thankful to the Lord for helping this process move forward despite COVID barrriers. And we are hopeful that baby girl will be home with us by next month!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

What Might Seem Mundane is a Privilege for Me

So many of my days just happen to me. It's hard to plan. Every morning I plan to home school my boys and cook three meals for my family. But the rest all falls into place and I believe it always happens the way God wants it to. Some days it means an afternoon going for a walk or jumping on the trampoline with my two year old. But most other days it's spending time with a neighbor or friend.

Photo by UN Foundation

Today I found out that a woman in our church lost her mother. Sadly her mother died in Sudan so she won't be able to have good closure and can't travel for the funeral and burial due to COVID travel restrictions. So I went to pay my respects ,which in this culture, means to sit and be with the person who's grieving. Often you join in crying. Some will sing.

This afternoon we sat in the dark main room of her house on a mat on the floor. There were 3 South Sudanese women and me. After our friend shared how her mother died, we chatted a bit about Corona and how much it's changed our lives and somehow the subject turned to the past when these women were young and the civil war was going on in Sudan. Each woman shared terrifying stories. I found it strange at first that this was the place and time they decided to go back to some of their most difficult memories. But then our dear pastor's wife tied it all together beautifully. She reminded us as we sat in the hot, dark room that our God goes with us from our first day to our last. We might have to go through hard hard things but HE IS ALWAYS THERE. All of us nodded and sat quietly soaking that in. God is always here.

As I walked home to fix dinner for my family, rain clouds gathered and I couldn't help but breathe a prayer of thanks to the Lord - for these simple things that I get to do each day. I count it such a privilege to live here. To share in these everyday life events. And hopefully to always point to Jesus, even in the mundane.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Intense but fruitful


Part 2: My heart for the women of this country

As I've been pondering what I can do to make some kind of impact/change in the lives of the women I live day to day with, STUDYING THE BIBLE together keeps coming to my mind. I know you might think, "Well duh Bethany!" But for this mama who already feels like life is pretty full with homeschooling and my relational ministry, planning Bible lessons and actually DOING this seems a little intimidating.
- What would we study?
- Where do I even start with young women who basically have no understanding of Scripture?
- How often would we meet?

The month of May was really intense as I've walked through some hard things with three women that I love. Looking back at my last blog I'm realizing that God was preparing me for this season of being in over my head. But just like one of my favorite songs, I was beautifully in over my head, needing to trust the Lord in every step.

First, one of my friends' challenges in her marriage came to a head to the point where she was running away from home to kill herself. Thankfully the Lord sent me to her house right at that moment and I was able to walk with her for a few hours, hear from her heart as she poured out her grief, and finally convince her to come stay with us for the night (by that time it was dark and raining!) That night turned into a week. She hadn't been eating or taking care of herself and it was my joy to serve her, prepare fun things for her to eat, encourage her with truth from God's word and prayed a ton with her. We prayed for her marriage, her unborn child, her future - everything! Eli and I also sat with her and her husband a few times during the week and our pastor came to meet with her as well. After a week with us she was ready to head home to her husband. It was incredible to see the transformation happen in her heart! She went from wanting an abortion and suicide to keeping both of those lives. Only God!

Only a few days later another young friend had some major struggles with demons for three days and let me tell you, I was way in over my head! But Jesus always gains the victory and now that friend is delivered and free.

These are both seemingly happy endings but let me tell you, their stories havent ended. In fact, I think they're just beginning. They will be on a long journey, as we all are.

A couple weeks ago, I thought the answer was to start a weekly or twice weekly Bible study with these women. But honestly I'm realizing it doesn't have to be something official as long as I'm being intentional preaching God's Word to them and praying with them every time something comes up that needs prayer. I get so fired up excited about this. It's been such a sweet and fulfilling season of ministry for me. For so many years that I've longed to serve Jesus, I've always thought that real ministry is something official like a class or a group that meets the same time every week. Silly me! That wasn't how Jesus did ministry most of the time, was it?

It's actually easier to jump all in when it's not something so formal. Being a friend is something I love to do and God has made me very extroverted so I love being with people. I'm realizing this is EXACTLY what He designed me for and it's been such a joy to walk in that calling and have a front row seat to God changing lives!

One of my sweet sisters I've walked through the valley with