Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Be. Here. Now.

Wow! Did you know we are about to celebrate one year in our new congregation here in Jacksonville?! I'll admit my attitude about being in a big American congregation, was not very positive at first. We both were overwhelmed. So many times we wanted to run back to our little peaceful Ugandan group- a place where we felt safe and comfortable.

I remember about February last year I had visited my sister Megan's huge congregation for a couple weeks as we lived with them in Palm Coast. During the student assignments one night I got really emotional. I was feeling the sharp fresh pain of leaving Uganda. Certain little things just made me contrast and compare what it was like to be there. Every meeting in Uganda was exciting because you were often seeing new ones participate. The students took their assignments so seriously and handled them with such care. I looked at Megan with the tears starting to roll. She grabbed my hand and I asked her, "Will I ever love a congregation like I loved Mbarara congregation?"
"Yes." she whispered with a quiet confidence and a reassuring smile.
For moment I felt better. It was reassuring. But still so hard to imagine.

As a more introverted person, I'm always going to prefer being with less people. Any of you like that? However, when it comes to doing Jehovah's will my preferences come second. Preferences all too often hold us back from being all that we can be, and doing all we can do. Insisting on preferences I venture to say, could even hider Jehovah's holy spirit from working in us. So, I breath deep, push preference aside, I say my prayers, and take it one week at a time.

Now we both have really grown to love our big congregation. After a year we do feel apart of it. We still don't know everyone, despite our efforts to. Which is a reminder of how important a ministry within a congregation is. People are really struggling in this fast paced American life. Most are exhausted, stressed, sick, and it's all they can do to just get there, much less socialize. It's clear too in developed countries like here materialism is a huge hiddrence along with countless social expectations. We could see how people could easily just drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)  Keeping them tethered, is our job as brothers and sisters.

Sure, it's an incredible life changing experience to move where the need is great in foreign country....So many in the field in those places want to study the Bible, and hearts are often much more receptive. The love and appreciation they express, just fills you up with joy. And we would love to do it again, Jehovah willing. But if you can't do that, or even I'd say BEFORE you do that, we believe it's good to think about what you can do where you are. On the surface it may appear there's little to do. But look deeper, and you'll probably find there is so much more than you thought. Sometimes you can even do more than you could as a need greater somewhere. It's a great joy to bring people to know Jehovah, but what about those who already know him and are slipping away? Reminds me of what Paul said. "So, then, as long as we have the opportunity, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith."-Galatians 6:10

And beside what you can do in your local congregation. With hard work there may be more to do in your field as well. We are seeing beautiful Bible studies come from our new territory. Most every Sunday our lovely students from South Sudan (a mother and adult son pictured below) have been attending meetings with us. We have several African studies with people from Rwanda and South Sudan. In addition we have some really nice studies with local people. By working "Not At Homes" thoroughly, making diligent attempts to return on interested ones, and even cultivating interest with coworkers, we've see there are many looking for answers and hugering for a relationship with God.

Our prayer is to stay focused and not become distracted by this busy life. Not easy! But we regularly talk to each other and Jehovah about our plans. We look forward to when we can soon apply for the "School for Kingdom Evangelizers". That is our goal and hope, Jehovah willing. But an immense, colossal, I'm talking tremendous, lesson I have learned is this: 
Be. Here. Now. 
Learn from the past. Look forward to the future. But live here now. I've made the mistake of living in the past, and jumping to the future too often that I missed so much of the present. No more! I refuse to miss out on this...

Martha & Samuel
Cool story. After receiving a publication Samuel went on JW.ORG. He just knew this was the word of God. So he filled in the online request form for the Dinka language. Since we have some experience with that language thanks to beautiful Sudanese refugees we had in Uganda, the request was sent to us. A study was started, and after just a few weeks they began attending the meetings with us! Samuel even comments every week! We just love them. Yakoba (Jehovah in Dinka) is surely drawing their beautiful hearts.

Our Lively Lovely Pioneers! 

Now with the memorial coming we meditate with appreciative hearts on all Jehovah has done for us. He is so good. Every memorial is so special. But something that makes this one particularly special is when I look at the man beside me, my loving husband. He's 33 this memorial. The age Jesus was when he gave his life. He feels so young, but has lived long enough to feel wise. He's really precious to more people than just me. I can't imagine him dying. But Jesus willingly did, and Jehovah allowed him to at this very age. I never thought about it like this before. It just really makes me grateful....

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Life Goes On...

So we have been working hard to adjust back to life in the States.Our hearts are still tethered to Africa. It will always will be such a huge part of our lives.We tried to watch the movie "Queen of Katwe" a few days ago, which is a Disney film set in Uganda. 3 minutes in my cheeks were soaked with tears. I balled. Steven said we'd better turn it off, just not ready for that yet. (But you should watch it! It's a very realistic portrayal of life in East Africa.) A huge part of us wants to be there so bad, and that was just a reminder. Here is where we are though, and here we want to thrive. Can't do that if we are always wishing we were elsewhere. We have to find a way to remember minus the great sadness. Many lessons linger though. They're like distant echos beckoning us to live a better, simpler, more conscientious way of life. People are probably really tired of hearing us talk about Uganda. I'm sorry if you've felt that way. (#sorrybutnotsorry 😗) 

Jehovah is so awesome though! I love how in every place we've ever served he starts training us for the next thing, and we don't even know it. 5 times in 4 months we have come across Africans in our ministry, and it has resulted in beautiful Bible studies. We are fully convinced Jehovah is directing us to these people. The fact that we went to the places they are running from earns their respect, appreciation and is a bridge to their hearts. I have a lovely study with a family from Rwanda. Just a couple weeks ago I was able to get them a Bible in their mother-tongue Kinyarawandan. They had never had a Bible in their own language. A sister in Rwanda, Priscilla who is a dear friend of mine, helps me often with the study. She communicates with the family when they have a question they can't fully express in English. Priscilla and I feel like we're preaching together even though we are thousands of miles away from each other! Steven also has studies with men from South Sudan. We love spending time with them, as they remind us of our dear Sudanese friends in Uganda. 

And what really inspired me to write this post was an experience we had just today. This morning we went to help at the convention site here in Jacksonville since the other region has their 3 day convention this weekend. Well, when we got there we learned they didn't really need help, so we decided to run home and change so we could go in field service. A sister from our neighboring congregation was out with our group and invited us to come over and help her give out invitations in her area for the convention, since ours was last weekend. We excepted and had a nice group go into her territory. On the second street we were working Steven and another sister came across a woman who didn't speak but a few words of English. They tried to understand, but couldn't so they gave the invitation and moved on. I overheard the conversation, and asked what language she spoke. The woman told them she spoke Arabic. By her appearance I immediately thought she was from South Sudan where in some areas they speak a Creole form of Arabic called Juba Arabic. Steven said she probably wouldn't understand me if I tried to ask, so we continued. Well, I thought of her the whole way as we went door to door, something was telling me to try and talk to her. As we circled back she was working outside. I noticed a piece of furniture that looked like a traditional Sudanese style. At this point I knew I had to go, so I bothered Steven again to let me. He approved and so I went.
 I called to the woman "Madame, are you from South Sudan?" 
 "Yes!" She exclaimed.
"Juba city?" I asked. 
"Yes! Yes Juba!" she said in excitement hurrying towards me. 
"I have a video in Juba Arabic for you!" Then I played the video "Why Study The Bible" in Juba Arabic. She watched intently and nodded in agreement as her eyes lit up. Then she began to cry, like really cry, tears streaming. I told her we lived in Uganda for nearly 2 years and know many people for South Sudan whom were refugees there. We found a way to communicate and understood each other just fine. I made arrangements to return and started studying Juba Arabic this afternoon to offer her a Bible study. So on a day when we had not planned to go in service, in a territory of another congregation, we found this woman. Coincidence? I think not! Totally angelic direction. Really touches my heart. It's such a wonderful thing to see Jehovah so clearly in our ministry. 

Every week we communicate with many of our friends in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. So I must share some recent pictures they've sent me. 

Sweet sister and Bible students after the meeting in Aweil, South Sudan.
Cathy, Mary & Alek after meeting in Mbarara, Uganda. Still going strong. Always begging us to come back to Uganda 😃😃

Outside Mbarara, Uganda. Friends participating in "Macedonia Campaign" where they travel further to preach in villages.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017



Today is full of blessings, so much to count
Many are priceless, they're worth no amount
Others are tiny but precious indeed
People will fail to notice, but will we take heed?

Let's stop and appreciate what we have right now
Some self reflection is the key to how... 
How to have joy, when things seem bleak
We have so much more, if we would just think...

Do you have a bed to sleep in, a place to rest your head?
How about something to eat, even a little bread?
Do you have safe water to drink and to clean? 
Do you have the freedom to speak, and say what you mean?

Some sleep in the dirt, cold and afraid
Their empty bellies ache, tired bodies in pain
They have no help, no one to provide
In their despair, all their tears have been cried

But still when they wake they find reasons for smiles
There hearts are still beating through all of the trails
And they can have joy because they know the key
The key is to stop and just think...

We're all fighting a war, sometimes it's within
Some battles are full force, some are pretend
But if we just realize the blessings we possess
We could win the war, we can have that success

Because happiness isn't only a result, it is a choice
Use your power of reason, use your voice
Let's think, appreciate, let's pray
Stop, take the time, count the blessings today


So, I said it would be awhile before I would write again because I just didn't think I'd have a lot to say. However, I realize I missed blogging so much because it's a therapeutic outlet for me. Not to mention, surprisingly, some people still want to read what I write, and I appreciate that. So I can't promise it will be as interesting as our time in Africa, but nonetheless I'll still write at least on a monthly basis. It's like I've changed writing genres. I'm going from like epic adventure writing, to essays and personal narrative.

We've been feeling much more positive as of late. We have abundant reasons for smiling. Digging back in to the ministry here has been healing. Jehovah has blessed us with some lovely Bible studies. When we have them longer, I'll share more. We still continue to conduct a few studies with people in Uganda via the internet. They live hours from the nearest group so till they can get closer we're enjoying being able to help them still. 

It's a funny thing when you're used to always moving in a forward motion, busy busy busy, and then you're suddenly forced to just sit still... Sitting still is difficult for us. We're already talking about the next adventure. I thought I'd appreciate the downtime more, that I'd be so happy to have suit cases unpacked, no pending trips in the queue. Ha! Hardly! But I should take my own advice. (Not really my advice, someone else said it first, I just repeat it.) 
"We're all flowers in the garden of Jehovah, we can't always change where we are planted, so we must learn to thrive in the soil we're currently rooted in..." 
I haven't even gotten roots yet and I'm ready to move! So I daily pray for modesty and a realistic view point. I know it will come in time. And I'm not unhappy where we are. I'm just used to such a BIG, FULL life. This life can also be full, I just need to give it a chance. See what I mean about therapeutic writing? I just worked all that out for myself!  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A New Chapter

Transitioning to a first world country from a third world country after 2 years isn't as easy as it looks. Steven puts it well when he says "never have we had less". We came back with no congregation, no home, no car, no jobs, no furniture and very little possessions. When you haven't had a job that gives you a real paycheck in 2 years it's pretty challenging to get those things. It's been a rocky and slow start. Just today I'm completely unpacking my suitcases for the first time in 3 months, because we have moved over 10 times between different people's homes. To say it's been a bit overwhelming, is to understate it. Where we thought we'd be by now is far away.

I'll take just a few sentences to be competently realistic about this. Maybe it can help some who plan to serve where the need is great in a foreign country or are... To be frank, you will face tests upon coming back. We actually feel coming back is harder than it was to go to Uganda. Well meaning people will say some really unkind or discouraging things that can be hurtful or frustrating. And some people will act like they just don't care what you've done. Not that we need validation or special recognition. We feel as though we did what we ought to have done with our circumstances. But there is a wish for some empathy; because of the monumental changes, huge sacrifices, and enormous challenges that were faced...stuff you feel shaves years off your life. Bouncing back in not automatic, positivity isn't instant, and sometimes there's really no 'everything just falling into place'... Satan will try to taint the cherished memories you have from your experience and you'll be faced with the question: Was it really all worth it??? To turn the light back on; YES! It's worth it! There is a lesson learned in every challenge. Jehovah is training. Even if you have no idea right now what the lessons are, or how this training will benefit you. Just remember:

  • Romans 5:3 "let us rejoice while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance” 
  • James 1:4 “But let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything." 
  • 1 Peter 4:12, 13 “Beloved ones, do not be surprised about the fiery trials that you are experiencing, as though something strange were happening to you. On the contrary, go on rejoicing over the extent to which you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, so that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory.

Sorry if that lacked tact. I feel to be blunt is a necessary thing. Usually I'm all rainbows and butterflies, but that's not realistic sometimes. That's why this ^ is in the Bible. As one brother put it harshly, but so oddly refreshing... "No one asked you to go to Uganda... SO STOP COMPLAINING!" So this is where I stop. Sorry that was more than a few sentences.

We're moving on, and hope for many more adventures with Jehovah if he allows us. But Uganda is still a piece of our heart and always will be. We've been able to keep in contact with many people and have even been able to conduct studies over the phone with two people who live hours from the Kingdom Hall there. Upon leaving we got so many lovely encouraging letters! I look at these to keep me going and remind myself why...

Here are some of the sweet things they said... 

"I wish for you to stay not go. We wish Jehovah's blessing on you. You will be in our prayers. Thank you for teaching us about Jehovah. May we progress and reach our goal of baptism. Everywhere we go, we must serve Jehovah..." David (9 years old) 

"I am thankful for the wonderful times we spent together in Uganda. Thank you a lot for the help you gave given to my family. We love you Niki and Steven. We thank Jehovah for the wonderful people like you." Veronica and her children 

"I am very happy to have you as my Bible teacher and Jehovah. I will always love you wherever you are. I will miss you so much my best teacher and my best friend. I will be strong and may we meet again in the beautiful place named paradise..." Mary Akon

"Friendship doubles our joys, and halves our sorrows. Thank you for showing us that kind of friendship. Over our many years that Derek and I have spent here, people have come and gone. Many only enter the peripheral vision of our hearts, but, you have entered the focal point of our hearts. We will never forget you." Jennifer & Derek Burrell

"Thank you for sacrificeing your pleasures to share in the ministry in Uganda. Jehovah will never forget your good works, and he will bless you for what you have done." Rebecca 

Expressions like these make all the problems we faced in Uganda and all the problems we face coming back more than worth it. A scripture I shared with all of my students before leaving was Colossians 2:5-7 "Though I am absent in body, I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, just as you have accepted Christ Jesus the Lord, go on walking in union with him, being rooted and built up in him and being stabilized in the faith, just as you were taught..." May they do that, and may we do the same. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Final Days...

Our amazing congregation in Uganda had a wonderful farewell party in our honor. What a joy it's been to serve alongside some of the best most zealous people we've been privileged to meet. Jehovah has surely blessed us with lifelong friends. Here are some of the highlights that will be forever etched in out hearts.

Even though we are under 50 publishers we often have over 100 at the meetings. 

Definitely some of my favorite human beings... 

Being away in Uganda was really difficult at times because of how much I missed my family and friends in the states. So for fun and health reasons I flew home early and surprised them all! There were lots of tears and everyone was genuinely shocked! Steven is just finishing a few things up in Uganda then he'll be on his way to join me. We'll have less to write about for awhile, but I'll try to do some updates if anything exciting happens. That's a wrap!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Complete What You Started...

It's with heavy hearts and teary eyes that we announce our departure from Uganda. Soon we will be packing up, saying goodbyes, and moving on. Being here has been life changing. This experience and these people will be memories we forever cherish. 

But but why?

This has been some of the best times in our life. But it's not exactly easy...We came to Uganda with the goal of 1 year. Well, a year came and went! After that the goal was to make it as long as we could with the money we have in had in the bank and energy we had in our tank. Both, especially the second, are running almost empty, but just enough to be excited for what's next. We made it almost 2 years, and when we reflect on that we are overjoyed.

Because of health reasons in the past, our dream of serving in a foreign country seemed to be unreachable. However with Jehovah's help and a few changes I was able to make almost a full recovery. Thus we revisited that goal of foreign service. Still, honest evaluation on our part was important to know whether it was the wisest choice. But we knew Jehovah was leading us this way. Plus we would always regret it if we didn't at least tryNow here we are. We survived! We did it!

2 Corinthians 8:11,12 says "So now, also complete what you started to do, so that your readiness to act may be completed according to the means you have available...For if the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have." We feel we have give what have for now to this assignment, and completed what we started. As painful as it is to say goodbye, we know it's time to move on. So we bow out gracefully and wave goodbye as the curtain closes on this act. We're leaving Uganda, but the journey isn't over. 

What's next?

A sister who formerly served in Uganda said something truly encouraging when we told her we're leaving. She said "Pass the baton, rest up, and get ready for the next race." And that's what we shall do. Starting over is a little scary because we have no jobs, home, car, and very little possessions. But our hope is to begin again with a simple life in Florida, probably Jacksonville, or where we can find jobs. We'll ask for recommendations for a new congregation where there is a need, and continue to pioneer. We will save some money and rest up. Then our goal, Jehovah willing, is to apply for the "School for Kingdom Evangelizers". As we look to the future we are not opposed to going to another country even. Wherever Jehovah God see's fit, we trust his guidance and the decisions made by those he has put in that authority. Who knows, maybe we will come back to Africa?! 

Along the way we have learned so much, it's hard to put in to words. No doubt we've learned more and changed in ways we haven't even grasped yet. One of the most important lessons was this: Be modest, but don't be afraid to DREAM BIG. Jehovah will help you reach your spiritual goals. And if you believe you can do something, and you believe Jehovah will help, you are halfway there. Whatever your obstacles are you can overcome them, or adjust your goals to accommodate them. There are no perfect circumstances, but if you have the desire and faithfully rely on Jehovah God you can do things you thought impossible. (Mark 9:23)

Thanks must be said to those who supported us along the way. Loving comments, financial support, care packages, and most of all prayers kept us going.Thank you so much to everyone who helped us in anyway. We really love you. Our congregation here in Mbarara has been probably the best congregation we have ever known. The zeal, faith and love of the local friends, need greaters, and missionaries is inspiring and unforgettable. We have gained forever friends. It is like a hole in heart kind of painful to say goodbye to them. So we won't say that, just see you later and love you lots.

We'll be in Uganda a little while longer, so stay tuned for some photos of our last days here. As always thanks for reading...

We love you Uganda.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Funny Little Stories...

The Widows Jar...
So remember the Bible account of the widow of Zarephath who's jar of flour and jar of oil didn't run out as a miracle from Jehovah God for her faithful obedience? Well we joke a similar thing has happened to us. When I was in the states in February I bought a bottle of this most magnificent shampoo the smells like raspberries. It makes me happy everyday when I get to wash my hair with it. It's a big bottle, but I didn't expect it to last too long since I have long hair and wash it pretty much every day. It's now the end of October, and somehow that shampoo bottle is only half empty after 9 months! And mysteriously it seems to stay half empty... In addition somehow I only used 1 normal sized bottle of contact solution in a whole year, when apparently most people go through a bottle in 2 months!...Next Steven's razors. After a week in Florida they would be too dry to use, but now in a dryer climate,one razor last a month without it wearing out... And one last thing, we have a gas stove top and use it every day. Others have said there gas tank would last 5 months, however by some chance ours lasted 11 months!... 
Have we just learned to be thrifty and live on less? - Maybe. Is it a miracle? - Probably not. But is it funny? - To me, YES! Either way, I have to give Jehovah credit, because perhaps he has given us the wisdom to conserve supplies wisely. (?)

Dogs, Drunks, and Ducks...

One day the missionary sister Jennifer and I were preaching house to house. We came to a big gate. It was my turn so I knocked but I didn't hear anything. We couldn't see what was on the other side except through a small opening. I discreetly peeked in and saw there were about 3 or 4 homes inside. The gate was open, so we decided to enter through the small door, that's maybe 5 feet tall. Well, as soon as I entered 2 big dogs came running at me barking and growling! Jennifer had one foot through when I nearly fell backwards onto her pushing her out the gate!.. I'm not afraid of dogs usually, but I was so surprised my heart hurt! I'm pretty sure you could see it beating. 2 ladies inside the gate saw the whole thing and were laughing hysterically. After they got over my comedic performance, they were receptive to the message and invited us in... again. Thankfully, this time with the dogs restrained. 

The same day we were making a return visit to an interested person. We knocked, but the person we were looking for wasn't around. I went on to give the message to the young woman there. Meanwhile a drunk man with a bottle of local gin stumbled out of the next door.

In his slurred speech he says, "give me a book..." 

Jennifer: "Go up there where the brothers are if you want a book..."

"Ok, we go, I get my shoes," he dizzily mumbles implying he'll go up with us, as he went shuffling back into his house to retrieve his shoes.

Even though we were already distracted by the interruption I continued talking to the girl. 

Before the drunk man could come back out though, Jennifer who was eating an apple by the way, devised a master plan.

She shouts to me, "Hurry! Run!". 

She throws her apple core and takes off! Already on edge, I follow her running as the drunk guy struggles to go after us. He gave up and returned disappointed, but not really, to his bottle of gin. We weren't necessarily in danger physically. More like in danger of wasting time and energy with someone half conscience. He can have a book when he sobers up.

About 2 hours later the next "attack" befalls us... Upon finishing a Bible study, my student Doreen was walking us to the car. Nearby her job there is a lake, so there are always lots of birds hanging around. If anyone reading this knows me well, you know I am truly afraid of birds...that's whole other story... Well, the birds never bothered me there before... till this funny day of unfortunate events. Out of nowhere, 2 ducks come waddling with a fury, honking there little bills' off at us! Literally they looked like they were "attack ducks"! As they head straight for us I scream and run off along with Doreen! Jennifer came to the rescue though! With her umbrella she pushes them off threatening a beat-down. Whew! Ones heart can only take so much in a day! In the end, despite the attack of the 3 D's, we managed to have a wonderful, and memorable day in the ministry. -The End-

Before I go, here are a few highlights from our Convention here in Mbarara which took place on September 18th and 19th! 

Even though the official language of Uganda is English and many people speak it, our convention is held in the local language in Mbabara. It's a great benefit for those who don't understand English as well. In times past we had a tent of English translation. However we're always packed tightly and a lot of the program is lost in translation. What a loving new arrangement we now have! A separate English program played from a recording of the English convention in New York! It ran simultaneously as the local language program! 

With my lovely Bible students Prisca & Mary.

As usual, a child on my lap.

Our sweet family of 9, ever faithful at their 3rd assembly.