I’m sitting on my bed staring out the window at the huge tree with beautiful orange blossoms as tears roll down my face. I’ve been trying to write a blog post for weeks but the words would not come. It’s been a difficult and challenging six months. Dr. Katie (American doctor who has been ministering in Uganda for almost 12 years and in whose guest house I live) encouraged me by telling me that for long term missionaries, years two and three are usually the hardest. What I’m feeling is not unusual and is to be expected. (For my Lifeshapes friends, it’s D2 on steroids in a strange world where nothing makes sense.) Years 2 and 3 require a great deal of patience and understanding. The honeymoon period is over. The realization that this is really hard has smacked me in the face. Becoming aware of the Lord at work in every minute of every day has GOT to become routine if I am to persevere. It should be routine regardless of where we live and who we minister to…but never more so than for a person living and ministering in a foreign culture…and especially so if that culture is recovering from 20 years of devastating civil war and living in unspeakable poverty. Our experiences form and shape us…for better and for worse…and the experiences the people of Northern Uganda have been shaped by are nothing like anything I’ve ever seen. There are many obstacles along the path of transformation for these people (as for all people)…and it’s the Lord’s work to remove those obstacles…not mine. I can do nothing apart from Him. I am powerless to change people. When I look at the challenges in Northern Uganda I feel overwhelmed and frustrated and many days greatly disappointed…but when I practice seeing these people and their challenges with the Lord’s eyes…His compassion and love rise up within me. I see them (and myself) floundering around trying to survive day to day and often making poor choices in the process, all the while not acknowledging God at all. I’ve grown more grateful for his patience, love and compassion towards me because I can’t see the sins of the Ugandan people without seeing my own. It humbles me.
Now, I know that many of my Ugandan friends will read this post and I want to assure them that if they were to spend a long period of time in the U.S. they would struggle with the same challenges of living and ministering in a foreign culture. There would be days when you would be disappointed and overwhelmed at the great need of American Christians to be transformed into the image of Christ and you would feel at a loss as to how go about ministering. I am not reflecting negatively on Ugandan culture…just acknowledging the challenges of living and ministering in a foreign land. I’ve mentioned this before in other posts. As humans we ALL fall short of the glory of God. We are all equally corrupted by our sin nature. As my worldview has been broadened in the last 18 months and I’ve seen the depths of our depravity in new and startling ways, I’m more grateful than ever for a God who, whilst humanity was still willfully choosing to sin against Him and spit in His face essentially, took on human flesh and walked amongst us and who chose to pay, on our behalf, the only penalty that could atone for our sin…death…so that we might be reconciled to Him. When I watch the news, I see a world more desperate than ever for some bit of Good News. There is only one place to find it…in the person of Jesus Christ and His love and grace and salvation.
So…every morning I recommit myself to the call to be a witness of the love of God to a lost and broken world. I often fail by mid-afternoon. I ask the Lord to give me His eyes to see, to show me where to go and what to do. I especially ask for His patience. There are a thousand things a day that challenge me in this regard in this culture. However, I’m in it for long haul. I recognize that ultimately it’s His work, not mine. If I join Him where He is already at work then I will always see success…not my success but His. This is not easy because my own pride and tendency to think I know it all gets in the way. So the tears of frustration that slide down my face some days are just my way of releasing back to God what is His and recognizing that instead of sharing the yoke of ministry, I have taken it squarely upon my shoulders alone. The last six months have been more about the Lord working in me than me working in the lives of the people of Northern Uganda. Once again I have been brought to the end of myself. Apart from Him I can do absolutely nothing. The way the Lord ministers never looks like the way I would minister. There is good reason for that! (LOL!) His ways are higher than my ways. That’s why I have to join Him in what He is doing on a moment by moment basis. This takes enormous discipline…discipline in which I need a great deal of growth.
I continue to acclimate to my new post as curate in charge of the English service at Christ Church Gulu. Learning in front of 600 people every week has been, well…a bit nerve racking. This season of transitioning into ordained ministry in the Church of Uganda has been one of learning on the job. I am a person who is always prepared ahead of time and I plan things out so I’ll not be caught unprepared… but this is not how Ugandan culture works…there is no formal training so it’s been stressful. This too has cultivated my need to rely on the Lord to help me. He’s never let me down. The people of Christ Church have been patient and supportive.
On the home front, I have reluctantly realized that it’s time to sell my home back in Charleston. Two good friends of mine, Paul and Pam Cooper, have been acting as my property managers for the last 18 months as I have been renting out my condo in Mt. Pleasant (fully furnished) to cover the mortgage. This has been a tremendous sacrifice on their part because things were frequently breaking down and needing repair. It took a lot of their time and energy. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that I just can’t afford to keep a home in the US and live full-time in Uganda. So, I’m putting it on the market. This is the first time since I bought the condo back in 2008 that I’m not upside down in it. Property values are on the rise and it’s a seller’s market. Sadly, I’m letting it go. I’ve cried some tears over this as well. The condo was my first…and likely last…foray into home ownership. I have found comfort the last year and a half knowing I had a home waiting for me when the Lord releases me from serving in Uganda. I suppose it’s time to more fully accept that Uganda is my home for now. The Lord has provided amazing help in the last couple of weeks in get things rolling. Pam found a storage unit for me. A group of people from my home church, Saint James, went in last weekend and moved all my furniture into storage. Helping someone move their stuff down two flights of stairs is a real act of love!! Then my friend Jennifer Woodworth, who already made the ultimate sacrifice of fostering my dog, is helping me organize work to get the condo ready to go on the market while I’m still in Uganda. Rees Johnston, wife of Bishop TJ Johnston, is acting as my real estate agent, which gives me great peace knowing she is a godly and trustworthy woman. Paul Cooper is coordinating a group of men from Holy Cross to go in and rip out old carpet and counter tops to get ready for the re-install…no small task!! I’m a control freak and so not being able to coordinate all this from the other side of the planet has been difficult. There have been sleepless nights! More letting go! But when I see the forces of heaven moving in Charleston on my behalf…all I can do is say thank you and be amazed! Thank you Lord! Thank you Pam and Paul Cooper, Jennifer Woodworth, Andrew Williams and the teams from Saint James and Holy Cross. Rees Johnston and others!! I wish I could do something to show my appreciation. Words don’t seem adequate. May the Lord heap blessings upon you all for your service!!
I’ll be home on Dec 2 and will spend a great deal of time working in the condo so we can put it on the market by the end of the year. Please pray for the Lord’s favor. It needs to sell quickly because I have exhausted my savings to pay the mortgage since the last tenant moved out. While I’m sad to see it go…the freedom that will come from being out from under the mortgage and upkeep costs will be welcome. I’ll not be distracted by it and can focus more fully on life in Uganda. Of course, this has me speculating about what the Lord’s plans for me might be for me long term. But…I’m trying not to go there…taking it a day at a time.
I look forward to some rest while I’m home and to preparing to return to Uganda in January. I’ll have a more in-depth wrap-up blog towards the end of the year. I hope to see many of you while I’m on furlough. It’s time to begin fundraising for 2016 so that I can return to Uganda for another year. Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. You can give through Paypal on the blog or mail a check to my home church, Saint James. For more info, click on “Become a Partner.”
Happy Thanksgiving to you all…and to God be the glory!!!
Loved reading your post and so appreciate the updates. We pray for you regularly, and will continue.😊
Elizabeth, you have been very honest and we are praying with you for success in the ministry. To us here in Uganda , we know you as someone who is making very positive steps towards working with the people. The God who brought you here will make it possible.
Wonderful. Applies to ministry anywhere. In a small town church with plenty of ruts. The same fears, frustrations, and occasional glories. Does dad read these? Hope to see you next month. WB
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Elizabeth your blog sounds like just what I am going through in my own home as God cleans out and reorganizes my priorities and life. Agreed being in a foreign land adds a bit of a challenge, but let’s face it letting go and change is the same no matter where we are. Our pride and core sins keep us from welcoming what God has and anytime our loving Father is at work redoing our inner landscape it hurts. Bless you for sharing and being obedient to Gods call. You will find such freedom in the daily lifestyle.
My God bless you as you travel back (notice I did not say home) living in a different culture is always a challenge. Hoping the condo sells fast and that worry will be lifted from your mind. I really enjoy reading your blog.
So good to get an update on all that’s going on. I will pray for you, my friend, in the letting go. I am amazed by how the Lord is using you and what He’s doing with your life!!!
Thanks for the update! Carl preached yesterday on 1 Kings 17- remember Elijah was by the dried up brook, and then got sent to a widow who had nothing? Both of those situations were where God put him, and he was exactly where he needed to be. If you have never felt you were at a dried up brook, or asking a destitute widow for help, you haven’t experienced ministry at it’s fullest. Any day now you will see the full impact of the cruse that never failed and the barrel that didn’t diminish. Hang in there………………..you are where God put you, and He will bless your perseverance. Little is much when God is in it, and you are in His will, doing His work! Be sure of our prayers. Love in Jesus.