Kenya Believe It?

 

“I said, ‘Oh, that I has the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.'” Psalm 55:6-8 (NIV)

Two weeks ago, I went to lunch after church with a few friends. As we were chatting and discussing life here in Uganda, I made a comment about how we should take a trip to Kenya the following weekend, as we had Monday off. Three days later, our tickets were purchased, and after school on April 13, we were hastily making sure we had everything we needed before hopping on bodas (motorcycle taxis) to the bus station.

We got into Nairobi around 6:30 the next morning (after crossing what may be the most disorganized border ever), where my friend’s fiance kindly picked the five of us up. While the night bus may not be the most glamorous place to get some shut-eye, I somehow slept a few winks. That bit of rest plus an abundance of adrenaline kept us going throughout the rest of the day, as we kissed giraffes, admired baby elephants, sipped tea, and ate. Mannnnn did we eat!

Throughout the trip (and even still) we jokingly referred to Nairobi as the land of milk and honey. This is partly because Uganda imports a great number of supplies from Kenya…including literal honey. But there were also tastes of home we got to experience, such as Dominos Pizza, Coldstone Creamery, and Uber rides (inedible) on paved roads.

There have been a number of trials hitting us this semester. It has been incredible to see God work in the midst of these challenges and to see beauty rise from the ashes, but until we went away last weekend, I did not realize how much I needed respite. I needed a break from the surroundings that had been the setting for so much turmoil. Getting away allowed me to come back with a healthier (albeit tired from another night bus) mindset and a refreshed spirit. I never thought I would be so grateful for 12-hour bus rides and Dominos Pizza!

With Love,
Claire

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Jinja Have A Great Year?

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 (ESV)

As today wraps up the year 2017, I have found myself reflecting on this past year more than I normally do on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know if it’s because this year has brought about so much change, because I’m becoming more sappy as I get older, or a combination of the two. This time last year, I was getting ready to ring in 2017 with my good friend, Dayna. I was happy with where I was emotionally, physically, and occupationally, and I did not expect any of that to change. Until God stepped in and opened doors while simultaneously opening my heart and mind to something new.

My word for 2017 was “surrender.” I wanted to surrender my plans for God’s, but I never expected to have that tested so extremely. I learned to surrender my career, financial stability, and personal comfort for the better option of relying on God to fill all of those spaces in my life.

So as you go into this new year, whether you’re happy to see 2017 go, nervous for 2018, excited, or anything in between, my prayer for you is that you will be leaning on the arms of Jesus in both the highs and the lows. As you have reason to celebrate, do! Glorify and bless His name through it all! As you have reason to mourn, do that too, and turn to the One who brings comfort.

Here’s to 2018 and to a lifetime of serving our Savior!

In Him,
Claire

Jinja say, “Thanks”?

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5 (ESV)

This past Thursday, I sat at a table surrounded by friends who have quickly become like family. We ate delicious chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, and even sweet potato casserole (just to name a few). This is my third Thanksgiving not spent in Pennsylvania with family, my second Thanksgiving spent out of the country, and my first Thanksgiving in Uganda. God has been so incredibly good to me, not only this year, but every year! His goodness is unfathomable, his grace and mercy undeserved.

This year, I am abundantly grateful that God brought me to Uganda. I am thankful for the kids I teach, the students at The Amazima School I have come to know and love, the amazing ministry partners with whom I work. I am so glad that God gave me a place to live here with wonderful roommates and incredible neighbors. I am beyond blessed to have loads of food to eat on Thanksgiving Day while families just down the street struggle to get by. I have family and friends who whole-heartedly support me being halfway across the world. I am grateful for the unexpected chance to see all those people in just a couple weeks! I have a nephew who gets the biggest smile on his face whenever I pop up on the FaceTime screen and another niece/nephew on the way. I have a Father who loves me, is so incredibly patient with me, forgives me, and sent His Son to bear the ultimate punishment so I would not have to.

Words cannot express my gratitude for all God has given me. But I have to stop and wonder – would I still have a thankful spirit if He didn’t? Would I continue to praise His name if I didn’t have the things and people who make my life comfortable? Would I be able, like Job, to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:21, ESV) if everything around me crumbled? Would I still believe God is good?

I pray that I would. I pray that I would be most thankful for God’s gift of salvation above everything else. That I would worship Him in all circumstances. That even in the trials of life, I will continue to proclaim, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Let’s continue to count our blessings and praise the One from whom all blessings flow!

What are you thankful for this year?

Grace and peace,
Claire

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*Note – the above image is not from Thanksgiving but is actually from a dinner one of my neighbors put together from our compound. But we didn’t take pictures on Thanksgiving, and I’m thankful for all these people, so it works =)

Visitation Day

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:13 (NIV)

Yesterday was visitation day at The Amazima School. Visitation days are a big deal at boarding schools. Even though the parents/guardians of the students at The Amazima School are allowed to visit their children whenever they would like, due to cost of travel, responsibilities at home, work, etc., it is a rare occurrence that they come on their own time. So one Saturday per term, families are invited to come to the school, see their student(s), conference with the teachers, and enjoy some special performances by some of the student clubs. It is quite the event.

Unfortunately, yesterday morning it was raining. Parents were meant to arrive between 9:00-9:30, but when my roommates and I got to the school a little before 9:30 (when chapel was scheduled to begin), we saw very few parents had arrived. It was explained to us that because of the rain, the dirt road going from the village where most of our students’ families live to the school was extremely difficult to navigate. We were not sure how many families would be able to find reliable transportation at all, or how late they would be if they did.

The next 30-45 minutes was a roller coaster of emotions. I wanted to cry as I watched students sitting around, talking to each other, their eyes focused on the gates. Watching, waiting, hoping. Whenever a matatu (taxi van) would arrive, you could see the students sitting up straight, wondering if it held the people they most loved in this world. Their backs slouched when they saw it was for someone else.

But when it was for them…

When it was for them, I wanted to cry again – this time for joy. I saw students run to their families. I saw smiles that could put out the sun. One of the most beautiful sights in this world is a family reunited.

As I was reflecting on the emotions of the day, I realized (yet again) how much I have to learn from these students. Their posture is one we should all imitate as we wait for our Lord to return. We should be waiting eagerly and expectantly, excited to see Him face-to-face. We should be keeping a watch, never knowing but always hoping for His arrival. On the blessed day of His return, I hope that I will run into His arms with an energy that will never fade. Lord, help me to be more like these precious children!

For those wondering, the sun came out and so did the families of many of our students! Visitation day was a huge success thanks to the grace of God and the efforts of our hard-working staff members.

Be blessed,
Claire

Uganda Worship Him

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

72. 72 voices lifted up in praise and worship. 72 students learning about the Gospel. 72 students going forth and living out the truth they have learned.

As I listened to the students leading worship on Thursday night, I stood in awe. I soaked in every moment that I could, as these beautiful souls sang at the tops of their lungs to their Creator. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be immersed as the 72 Ugandan students at The Amazima School worshiped our Lord in a language I have yet to learn. As I did so, all I could think was, “This. This is what Heaven will be like.” Only times, like, a million.

As I get to know these students, I am blown away by how much they have learned and understand about the Gospel in the 8 months that they have been attending The Amazima School. I was floored by some of the deep responses the girls were giving to the questions we were asking in the small group I help lead. They are comprehending beyond just a surface-level understanding of the Good News.

Please pray with me that these students would continue to grow in their knowledge of and love for the Lord and that they would go forth and proclaim the Gospel!

In Love,
Claire

Props to my roommate, Kirstin, for getting this second video!

Falling into Place

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1 (ESV)

As I write this, I have completed day 2 of teaching after a three week break. Having jumped right into teaching not long after getting off the plane, it was wonderful having a few weeks to settle into Jinja, explore some areas around Uganda, learn about other ministries in the area, fellowship, and rest.

During the second week of break, I went on a mini-vacation to Sipi Falls with a group of Amazima staff members. Sipi Falls is about a four hour drive from Jinja, and is unbelievably beautiful. We went on several hikes, enjoyed the view from the lodge whilst sipping African tea, held a chameleon, went on a coffee tour that took us through the entire coffee-making process (including drinking the best coffee I have ever tasted), watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen, and played tons of board/card games. It was such an incredible time of rest and relaxation and allowed me to get to know some of my Amazima family a little bit better. I spent most of each day marveling at God’s creation. It still blows my mind that there are so many people who wake up to these views everyday and know no different. How amazing is it that God gave us the ability to appreciate the beauty of His creation? I have literally hundreds of pictures from the trip, so it was hard for me to choose just a few to share, but here they are:

Since Sipi Falls, my roommates and I have made some headway in making our apartment feel more “homey.” We chose paint colors and hired someone to paint the inside of our apartment. The tranquil gray and turquoise we chose for our living room turned out to be more of a lilac-and-turquoise combination when mixed, but I think the color scheme is beginning to grow on us. That or we just don’t want to go through the hassle of repainting.

Kirstin (one of my roommates) and I also experienced a first together when we got our car stuck in the mud on Sunday! Some fresh but unpacked dirt on the road combined with a downpour that had just finished and a truck coming the opposite direction caused us to skid into the banks of the road where we promptly discovered we could not get out on our own. Fortunately, we were close to the school, where we had friends who happily bailed us out.

While I am so grateful that God gives His children the gift of rest, I have to say that I am ecstatic to be back at work. The campus seemed so empty with all of the Ugandan students at home, I missed the routine that I have when I’m working, I missed my students, and I missed teaching!

Join me in praying for Amazima as the students transition into their third term. Amazima is also hiring for several positions! Pray for well-qualified applicants who are eager to serve God in Uganda as well as our leaders who are going through the interest forms, applications, and interview process. Check out the openings here, and share if you know anyone who may be interested!

Love always,

Claire

Sole Hope

“But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11 (ESV)

God has given me the gift of adaptability. I generally adjust to new environments and new cultures quickly and easily. I miss my family and friends but don’t feel homesick. I am so grateful that He made me this way.

That being said, there are times when I am going about my day-to-day business that it hits me like a freight train: I am in Africa. Sometimes it happens when I am crossing the Nile River on my way to work. Other times it’s when I’m hanging my laundry on the line. Or when I’m killing a spider whose body (not including legs) is the size of a quarter. Yesterday, it was while I was watching precious children get jiggers removed from their feet.

Currently, I am one week into a three-week break at school. My roommates and I are using some of that time to volunteer with other ministries in the area. We had the privilege of going with an organization called Sole Hope to a community about an hour’s drive from Jinja. Sole Hope is an incredible organization whose main purpose is to remove jiggers from the feet of the people they serve and educate the same people on jigger prevention.

Before I get into our experience yesterday, let me share a little bit about jiggers. Jiggers are not the same thing as chiggers. Jiggers are itty bitty tiny fleas that don’t cause any real harm until the females are ready to lay their eggs. When that happens, they look for the nearest warm-blooded animal and burrow into their skin, attach to their blood vessels, and lay their egg sacs. In each egg sac, there are roughly 600 eggs. So while one or two jiggers might not be a huge issue, it can quickly become one. However, prevention is fairly simple. Wearing shoes is a huge deterrent. Also, the fleas are so small that it takes 24 hours for them to burrow into a person’s skin, so if you are scrubbing your feet every day, that helps a lot. Unfortunately, in the places where jiggers are the biggest issue, there is a lack of resources such as shoes and water.

We met at Sole Hope at 9:00 yesterday morning. After waiting for other volunteers to arrive, learning about what we would be doing, and loading into the vans, we left at around 9:45, arriving at our location at about 11:15. While Sole Hope staff members were setting up the stations, we played games with the kids. Generally, Sole Hope goes to schools, but since school is not in session right now, jigger removal was open to the community. However, since Uganda is such a young country (over 50% of the population is under 15 years of age), there was a significantly larger number of children than adults present.

Once the stations were set up, the community members would go through a registration process, where they would fill out a paper with some demographic information. From there, they would get their feet washed by Sole Hope volunteers. After the feet washing, they would go to jigger removal. Jigger removal is completed by trained Sole Hope staff members. They use a razor blade to scrape the skin around the jigger site and then use a safety pin to remove the jiggers. Sitting behind the staff members were more Sole Hope volunteers, mapping the jigger sites on the registration paper, which also has an image of the bottom of a person’s feet. While each person was going through the jigger removal process, they were given a lollipop to enjoy (both children and adults alike!). After they were finished getting any jiggers they had removed, they would go to a station that would fit them for shoes. Lastly, they were educated about what jiggers are (it is common for villagers believe jiggers are a curse) and how they can be prevented.

I was one of the volunteers mapping out jigger sites. Whenever a jigger was removed, I put a dot on the paper in the area of the foot that corresponded to where the jigger had been. I also drew where jiggers had previously been removed and any areas where a person’s foot had rot or gangrene. There were multiple people who came through my station that did not have any jiggers; I celebrated silently whenever that happened! There were others who came in with only one or two jiggers or a wound that needed to be cleaned and bandaged. The last young man who came through my station had over twenty jiggers. He was only a child, but he sat through the painful process of removing jiggers without making a sound. I simply watched as the Sole Hope staff member I was partnered with removed the jiggers and took care of bandaging his wounds. I would occasionally offer a smile or words of encouragement, but they were met with a blank stare.

As I watched the line for Sole Hope get bigger (never smaller), it hit me again. I am in Africa. I am in a place so rich in beauty yet there is such extreme poverty all around. I silently prayed, thanking God that for some reason, I was spared the hardships that these sweet children face every single day.

The name “Sole Hope” is one that I have been pondering over. Ever appreciative of wordplay, I enjoy the cleverness of the organization’s founders. It could be so easy to lose hope when you see so many extreme situations of poverty in one area. But God.

But God has a plan for the people of Uganda. But God loves them so much more than I ever could. But God is full of miracles – who am I to limit Him?

In such desperate circumstances, there is still so much hope. I have seen people here who are some of the poorest people I know in regards to physical resources, who are simultaneously the richest in regards to their relationship with Our Father. While I pray for God’s provision over their physical needs, I also pray that God would create in me a spirit that is as dependent on Him as they are. They have so much hope in the One who loves them. May He be our sole hope as well.