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.