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

Monday, May 04, 2020

My heart for the women of this country

Women waiting in line for food rations
*photo from Int'l Women's Media Foundation

Bear with me. This is a huge issue that I'm still wrestling with, researching, and learning more about every day. And even though I can hardly make heads or tails of this subject, I still feel the great need to share what's been burdening my heart ever since I started building friendships with the women in our neighborhood. It basically has to do with how hard life is for them and the incredible trials they experience. Many girls don't get to finish their primary education because their mothers need them at home and young women who desire further studies are often forced into marriage at a young age against their wishes. Since marriage is more casual here in the village context (a wedding ceremony and formal marriage are more unusual), it is very common for men to have multiple wives and children from each wife. The really hard part comes when a man decides he'd like a different wife - he leaves the previous wife, usually with children to provide for, and there isn't accountability put in place (mandatory child support) in order for the fathers to help pay for the children's food, medicines and school fees. These women are left to struggle to find some kind of income usually from selling food in the market.
Please hear me when I say I don't want to talk badly about the people who have so graciously accepted us to live in their country. I'm not sharing these details as an attack on government or anyone in particular but rather hoping that somehow we/I can do something to help women's voices be heard.

The thing that keeps swirling through my mind is that Jesus cared deeply for women and took time and action to show them they were loved. Genesis 1:27 says we are all made in God's image - men and women. Galatians 3:23-29 states that we are ALL heirs to the promise (to eternal life). There is no male or female. But in my neck of the woods here in our little corner of northern Uganda, women live solely to provide for their families and take responsibility for everything the man/head of the home should be responsible for. They toil, they sweat, they work harder than a lot of men I've seen. They spend hours in the darkness of night crying over the lack of money, or their child who can't go to school or the fact that she can't afford the medicine she needs.

In an article in the New Vision (Ugandan newspaper) titled "Challenges Women Faced in 2019", the author talked about the real threat women face in school and their workplaces. Some girls in school have been threatened by their male teachers that they will fail the class if they don't sleep with him. And women have lost jobs because they didn't give in to their boss's sexual advances. 25% or 1 out of 4 girls between the ages of 15-19 get pregnant and find themselves becoming mothers. 40% of widows experience actual or attempted property grabbing (when someone takes their land from them.)

All this to say, the injustice and the suffering I've heard in the stories my friends share and what I've read as I look into this issue have burdened me heavily and I don't know what to do. Is God asking me to get involved? Can I really make a change at all? How?

One of my closest friends was chased from her home with her children more than a year ago when her husband suddenly decided he didn't want her there anymore. For the first year he wouldn't even pay school fees for his children or send money when food was low in her home.

Another friend is a sharp, smart beautiful young 24 year old who had dreams of going to college. She started her own business, opening up a shop to sell chicken and chips and fresh fruit juices to save up for further education. She wasn't planning on getting married anytime soon, not to mention having children, even though many women her age already have both. And then one day her uncles came to her shop telling her she was going to marry a certain guy. They basically forced her to marry him, and now 6 months later she's pregnant and just found out it's twins! This sweet friend is trying to be thankful for this precious gift and yet this is not the future she had in mind.

One of my neighbors was beat up so badly by her land lord who insisted she hadn't paid rent. She had paid but had given it to his wife and his wife hadn't told him. She was battered and bruised for a few days and when she tried to go to the police, they didn't do anything. Our local chairman also didn't want to get involved because of who the man was.

Another mama I know has a 2 year old son who has some kind of inflammatory disease and suffers greatly when it flares up. Her husband has several other wives (polygamy is more common than monogamy here) and doesn't always respond when she calls him for help to get the child to hospital or when they're out of food in the house.

And on and on. I have a sad story for every woman I know. 

A few months ago a young 17 year old girl from our church approached Eli and I, asking if we'd sponsor her for school. She's had a scholarship carrying her through secondary school but she wants to go on to be a women's right lawyer. Law school is expensive but she wants it more than anything. She is a bright young lady at the top of her class so of course we said YES. We are so excited to see how God uses her to hopefully make a difference with some of these issues.

What else can I do at the moment? I believe God brought me here to love these ladies with a love that comes from Him. I listen to their hearts, pray with them, hug them and try to bring Jesus' light into their lives. In the less than 2 years we've been here, I've seen God do amazing things and change women's hearts from bitterness to peace, from stress to trust. 

O Lord please have mercy on these daughters of yours.

Friday, April 03, 2020

God is Working Things for Good

In my last blog post I shared one of the difficult repercussions of this Corona Virus and I know we can all easily think of a long list of how this has negatively impacted us. I also want to acknowledge the deep loss our world is feeling as so many are waging war against this sickness, risking their lives every day to serve the sick and those who have lost the fight and passed away. This is heavy stuff.

But today I want to share some of the beautiful things that we are seeing as a result of all this. The first thing is the deep spiritual conversations Eli and I have been able to have with our neighbors. I've been praying for two friends specifically - Berish and Justine. Berish is a new bride and when I met her about 6 months ago she was newly married and very bitter at God and everyone. Justine has been a friend for a year, ever since she moved right next door after her husband kicked her and her kids out. She's had a very hard life and particularly this last year. However, God has been working in her heart and just in these last few weeks I'm seeing a transformation take place in her as she begins to pursue a personal relationship with Christ. Berish too admitted to me last week that she has realized that she needs to get right with God because we never know when our last day is. I can't tell you what joy it has brought to hear these sweet testimonies of how God is moving and giving faith to our dear friends.

Yesterday our family got to go over and pray over and dedicate Justine's new home to the Lord. This represented a year long struggle of wanting her own home for her and her children. She has worked hard as a seamstress and these two beautiful huts represent how God has been providing for her and answering her prayers for help.

Praying over Justine's new home

Celebrating a huge accomplishment
Another encouraging thing we've seen is how Eli's theology students have persevered to find a way to continue with their studies. They can't meet in their centers each week anymore because the groups were larger than 10. So on their own initiative they broke up into smaller groups so they continue meeting. We don't know how long they will be able to continue with that but we were so blessed by their determination to continue studying and learning.

One of my favorite songs in this season is called "Way Maker". I've pasted the link to Kari Jobe's video singing it. I suggest you turn the volume way up. 😊

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Feeling the hole (Adoption Update)

I was up past 2 am last night unable to sleep. Right before heading to bed around 11, I received an email from our adoption agency with 24 pages of medical history on a baby that we're praying about adopting. It was heart breaking to think what a difficult life this little 6 month old has had so far! Of course as I read the details, everything in me wanted to go to the orphanage and scoop her up to bring her home. And that's what's so hard. Just like so many other processes around the world, our adoption process has come to a halt.

Over the last few weeks I've heard from others how circumstances in their lives have had to be paused as well: fertility treatments, weddings, medical procedures, jobs/income, etc. It's not easy for anyone in the world right now. And for me, in my little world here in Adjumani, Uganda, the hard thing that's hit pause is our adoption.

One of the reasons I'm so frustrated is that we were so close. We had completed everything else on our home study except for the home visit and just when our local probation officer was about to come do our home visit we got word that US courts made a new law in 2020 that home visits for a home study had to be done BY THE AGENCY doing the home study. Meaning - a social worker with our agency needed to fly all the way here to check out our home and meet our family before we could be officially approved to adopt. This was a big blow, but she was able to book tickets 6 weeks out for March 28. And then COVID...

So here we are. With this one little piece of the puzzle remaining but it's the key to being able to bring this little one home. And now I can picture this precious baby. I don't know her name or know what she looks like. We actually have very little information about her but as silly as this might sound, I already love her and care about her deeply. I believe she is meant to be in our family.

This picture represents the posture I know God is calling me to be in. Hands up towards heaven, palms open, surrendering to HIS plan, HIS timing, and His best for our family and this little baby. In the big picture of everything going on in the world, I know there are much BIGGER things at stake, greater suffering and real heart ache. And believe me, I'm aching for them as well.

I just wanted to share with those who read our blog and pray for us that this is a heaviness on my heart. And like I said in the subject line, it's a hole I'm feeling. Even though we have 6 Faders sitting around our dining room table, I feel like someone is missing. Will you pray for this sweet baby who needs a family? And will you pray that God will move this process forward in HIS TIME.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Train Tracks of Life

The Lord has been taking me through a special season of teaching me about choosing joy in the midst of stress, change, chaos and struggle. I say "special" because it's not enjoyable and yet it's so sweet. Whether it's Bible class with Joshua, my own personal devotions, quotes from books I'm reading, or a sermon I'm listening to, the theme of Joy In Suffering keeps coming up.

One book that I like to go to on this topic is called "Choose Joy" by Kay Warren. She gives a great illustration to demonstrate how joy is possible in the midst of trials. She says that we usually think of life as a series of ups and downs, mountains and valleys. Sometimes we're up on the mountain and things are going well/smoothly in life. Other times we're low in the valley, where our hearts are heavy and we might feel overwhelmed or defeated. But Kay says we need to think of life as train tracks instead.  One track represents joys and one represents suffering. So just like train tracks which run parallel to each other, joy and suffering run at the same time. We experience both at the same time. Even when we go through really tough times we can experience joy at the very same time because joy isn't a happy feeling dependent on our circumstances, but rather a state of our heart and mind. Kay Warren's beautiful definition of joy is:
"Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life
the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right,
and the determined choice to praise God in all things."

1 Thessalonians 5:16:

Last week a young 46 year old pastor who lived a very active missional life in both Uganda and South Sudan, passed away suddenly. His family lives just down the road from us so we attended all of the funeral gatherings. During the big service held at their home a pastor from one of the churches here in Adjumani gave a heart boosting sermon in which he reminded all of us who were mourning that Pastor Juma John is in heaven now, rejoicing with the Lord. There is no where he'd rather be! And we, as believers, have the hope and joy of looking forward to that too! Though wailing and weeping continued throughout that whole day, immediately after his sermon, we sang a song. I don't even know what the words were but about 20 people danced to the front, many with their hands lifted to heaven and smiles on their faces and of course tears still in their eyes. And since I'd been "marinating" for a few days on this topic of joy in suffering I realized in that moment that I was seeing it being worked out right in front of me. That -
 Settled Assurance
Quiet Confidence
& Determined Choice

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Why is everything going wrong?

Quite the subject title right? But this is exactly how I've been feeling the last couple of weeks. I made a list of all my stressors to try to understand why I was feeling so heavy hearted and when I filled a whole page in my journal, I realized that a lot really has happened all at once.

In my Heavenly Father's special loving way, He led me to Psalm 20 this morning and it was exactly what I needed to hear. These are His promises:
In times of trouble may the Lord answer your cry.
May He send you help... And strengthen you
May He grant your heart's desires and make all your plans succeed.
May the Lord answer all your prayers

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Christmas to Remember

Our Exciting Adventure began by taking the overnight bus from Uganda to Kenya 

 Christmas 2019 will be a Christmas we never forget! For years we've been trying to get my sister Audrey and brother in law, David and their kids to Africa for Christmas. We decided it would be fun to do on the Kenyan coast because we have so many fond memories from vacationing there as a family when we were growing up in Uganda.

A common sight on the roads
We met up in Nairobi, Kenya and took a 6 hour train ride from Nairobi city to Mombasa where we'd stay in cottages on the beach for 6 nights.
We were quite the scene on the train with our large group :)

Cousins reuniting

We were so thankful for these strong boys and their help with all the luggage!

Poor jetlagged baby (and Dad)

The sight we got to enjoy every day!

One day the guys went snorkeling at the reef and the ladies stayed home with the babies and got pedicures.

We spent all day in the water

Someone really loved the beach!

One of our sand creations

(Possibly our last family photo as a family of 6!)

Breakfast in the Banda
 The meals were definitely a highlight! The place we stayed had a chef that cooked all our meals. We ate a LOT of seafood.

We ate a lot of meals in our swimsuits

Evan's breakfast plate

Afternoon coffee with my Mom

Waking up from his nap

Long awaited Sister Time

Fun in the waves

My youngest and my oldest

Swims with Mimo (Grandma)

My favorite view in the world!

Just chilling

My 4 year old nephew

Being silly with Mimo

Josh is forever our fish lover

 After 6 glorious days on the beach with family, it was time to head back to real life.

Carson's newest interest is drawing/scribbing

Josh fed the giraffe from his own mouth!
 We fit in a few more fun things in Nairobi before Audrey and David flew out. First stop: Giraffe Orphanage.

 We polished off our time together with a big lunch at a Brazilian Steakhouse for all-you-can-eat meat.

But that wasn't all! After the US crew flew back to CA and my parents flew back to Uganda we got to spend a day with our sister in law Heather, and our 3 beautiful nieces!

Dutch Blitz - always a must!

Lunch and ice cream

Cousin Abi wanted to carry Carson while we did some shopping

So thankful for these opportunities to see our loved ones!!!

Lastly we needed to drop Isaac and Evan off at school. It's not our happiest thing to do that's for sure but we got to spend the weekend at school and see a few more glimpses of their life there and get to know some of their friends a little better.  Since I missed getting both boys moved in at the beginning of the school year, I treasured getting to help each of them unpack and get moved back in to their dorm rooms. God is good.

So now we're back in Adjumani. Real life. Good Life. And sooo enjoying reflecting on these sweet times that God blessed us with! It always amazes me how often we get to see family, even being here in Africa - because so many of them are HERE!