This may not be the most ordinary mission update you've ever read (maybe it's more like a blog than a practical explanation of what I've been up to) as I want, to be honest with you and admit that life away from home is difficult and things don't always go according to our hopeful plans. I can assure you once again though that one thing has remained as perfect and constant as ever and that is, of course, the presence of Jesus. Hallelujah for that (literally).
I want to just mention 3 main Presbyterian points I've been learning through life here and finish with a few practical things that have been going on.
After 4 months in Uganda, it's become all too easy to be complacent and to wish each day away simply longing to be home. And I guess you're thinking it's normal to miss home and to want to be there but sometimes it's not so much just wanting to be home but it's more so NOT wanting to be here in Uganda. Each week we follow the same routine; we ride the same bus, we go to the same church, we spend each day with the same people, we get up way too early, we eat way too much rice, I put on way too much suncream.. usually. (Don't tell mum but sometimes I forget). But the point is: it is hard for the strength of our hearts to not be affected by our circumstances. Whether easy or difficult I've been finding it so easy to excuse my complacency or unloving behaviour by blaming my circumstances. Everyone else is tired and lacking enthusiasm so why should I be any different? We went to the same place last week and it seemed like we made no difference so why would we even go this week? I've spent the last 4 months with these students and it feels like we haven't changed at all so why are we even bothering?
You know in the bible Jesus never refers to his work as "ministry". He just lived his life in a way that represented exactly who God was in human form. Every moment and every encounter was valuable to Jesus. He sat down by a well because he was thirsty and ended up transforming the life of the Samaritan woman and the lives in her community completely. He met blind men and lepers when he was just walking through the streets and not only healed them but treated them with such love and compassion that they could not deny the power and beauty of God. Jesus attended a wedding with his mother and the disciples and he ended up turning water into wine. I want to live as intentionally as Jesus did. Everywhere he went he looked for opportunities to serve God, in the little and in the large. He even created opportunities to serve people when it seemed there were none. Everything he had done pointed to how much God cares about his people. I want to live as intentionally as Jesus did no matter how obvious my opportunities to serve him are or are not.
When I'm here in Uganda I guess I kind of feel like I've lost my independence. I can no longer drive, I can't even take public transport on my own. I can no longer go shopping on my own, I can't even walk down the streets just outside the church on my own because the city is too "dangerous". I can no longer go and get involved with projects I like the look of, I'm part of a structured programme so there's no time for any of my own ideas. Our ministry work is not at all what I expected. Not being able to communicate with people due to the language barrier and meeting new people every week rather than working in one particular place has meant that I haven't been able to build meaningful relationships. How else am I supposed to show people what a loving God who desires so deeply to have a relationship with them is like? I can't even describe how frustrating it is to feel like I'm contributing next to nothing to the lives of people here in Uganda. Of course, my hopes and prayers are that somehow people will have caught a tiny glimpse of God's character through the few words I've said or the way I've treated them or the way I've played football with them. But it often doesn't feel that way. I think I'm missing the point...
I came here partly to serve the people here but primarily and above all else, I came here because God told me to come. I want to please God above anything else. Sometimes my "work"/"service" here seems a little pointless to be totally frank. But God accepts our sacrifices as praise. He looks for quality in our sacrifices and the quality of our sacrifice to him is not based on earthly results but rather the heart behind our actions. Romans 12 v 1 says "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship". So why do I get so caught up in tangible results? Or feeling like I've done something good? Or knowing that other people can see the good things that I do? God has simply asked us to offer all of ourselves as living sacrifices. He didn't promise we would see results. He didn't promise we would feel good for serving. He didn't promise we would receive earthly praise. He can work through any sacrifice we make to him in any way he wants. God made us - he knows exactly how we're going to struggle and to let him down but he still wants all of us. And even when it seems like I'm not being "effective" or getting the results and transformation I'd like to see in ministry I can still rest in the fact that God says just the sacrifice is enough without the results.
Let me finish by going back to a point I made earlier. I wrote, "it is hard for the strength of our hearts to not be affected by our circumstances". I have been thinking about this a lot and about how my emotions, my decisions, my relationships are all consistently inconsistent because they all hinge on what's going on around me. And what's going on around me is always changing. But the reality is that the strength of our hearts should not be affected by our circumstances at all because our unchanging God is the strength of our hearts. Our emotions, decisions and relationships should not depend on changeable circumstances at all.
I've been wondering recently how do I stay close to God and serve him well consistently? I think the answer comes in my favourite verse at the moment which I've been praying over my life every morning recently. It is Psalm 90 v 14 and it says "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days". When we rely on the one who never changes and let him fill us up we will be glad and content for all our days regardless of what's going on around us or how we feel. I think everyone is secretly looking for a permanent fix of joy and contentment so surely if we live this way people will be drawn to Christ in us. And that's exactly what it's all about.
A FEW PRACTICAL THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN GOING ON
Of course since the last update we've been following almost the same routine, participating in a combination of different ministries and classes, so hopefully, you have a general idea of what's been going on already. I have been learning a lot from the classes in particular and have been able to put into practice some of the habits I've been learning about since January. It's becoming easier and more enjoyable to pray and read my bible every day. Living with the other international students has also been a huge encouragement to me in relation to these practices and it has been great to share with one another the different things we've been learning from our studies and experiences. We also attended a camp by Lake Victoria recently where we practised fasting together by skipping breakfast for a couple of days so that we could set aside that time to focus on our devotions and class sessions. We spent some of our time at the camp enjoying the beauty of Uganda too. We hiked to a waterfall, had a campfire overlooking the starry skies and little boats on the water and we woke up each morning to sunrises and storms over the most amazing landscape. I really appreciated being away from the city for a few days.
Throughout the past week, Taylor (one of the other internationals) and I have both been quite sick. We went to the hospital on Thursday as we felt so unwell and didn't know why. We were given the appropriate medical attention there and have been off the programme for almost a week now as we recover. This is the longest time we have been out of the typical schedule of 360 so it will be difficult to adjust when we resume the programme. And also Taylor will be heading back to America for a week on Saturday to be a part of his good friend's wedding. Therefore I'd ask that you would pray for both of us to continue to get fully better and to resettle into the programme well when we return, especially for Taylor as he will be missing the second week of 360 when he's in America.
I would also like to ask that you would pray for renewed enthusiasm and energy for the last push of this 360 experience. The 360 programme actually ends on the 11th June but the internationals will be staying until July, spending the last 3 weeks doing an internship with the church. So it would be great if you could also pray for guidance as to what to do for the internship and for fervour as we try to contribute positively to a Watoto department or project throughout the last few weeks we spent interning.
Other than that I would only ask that you would thank God for being with me here and for teaching me in so many ways that I never expected. He is truly changing my heart and mind every day and filling me with so much excitement to come home and be a part of his plan for NI, as well as our work here in Uganda. Please know that I never forget you at CE. My hopes and prayers are that God is raising up many courageous and profoundly joyful young people who are so deeply rooted in God and who want to share their hope in God with the people they meet. This is my prayer over each of our lives today and forever...
Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support.