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.