Monday, September 29, 2014

Got a minute?

Author's note: This post originally appeared on, and is gratefully used with permission.

There’s a saying here in Uganda: “Mzungus”—Westerners—“have watches; Africans have time.”
And it always makes me grin, because it’s so often true. One of my most-loved aspects of Africa remains the stretching, spacious time for relationships. Ancient rhythms of chatting while sorting beans, farming, sweeping, and walking find their modern counterparts even here in the city. My African friends talk about everything, or nothing at all; they joke, and relate lengthy, winding stories. They swap anecdotes over steaming cups of black tea with as many heaps of sugar as they can afford. It’s as if the whole continent expresses love through long, easy conversation.

Slowly, this has wiggled its way into my distinctly American DNA, too. My patience since arriving two and a half years ago has grown with every meandering chat, every friend who stops (often without calling) by my gate. I’ve learned to stop my car to speak with friends on our lane; to walk when I don’t have to drive in order to exchange greetings and snippets of conversation with our community. Their three-or-more part greeting process has become a natural part of my, yes, slightly slower-paced, margin-widened days.

It might sound tedious. And at times, it is. There are definitely a few zigzagging narratives through which I would love to find a convenient shortcut, and more than one rambling conversation has plopped itself in the middle of my mzungu time commitments, when I must resist glancing at my clock, blinking the seconds away.

And yet—it seems this is well-timed for my family and me. When I visited the U.S. recently, I was amazed by how the pace of American life had quickened even in our short span away from the continent—while my own stride had decelerated. I found myself wanting my children to be able to walk in step with American ways whenever God calls them back there…and yet, to carve out generous spaces to feed real, face-to-face relationships uninterrupted by headlines, tweets, status updates, or handheld devices. Personally, no matter in what zip code (or lack thereof) I live, I want to curl my feet beneath me on my back porch, truly listen to a friend, and be listened to. I want to consistently make time for people.

More importantly, as I age in my spirituality, I’m uncovering more and more that healthy, thriving depth of spirituality is found less in doing for God than it is being with God.[1] My Type-A cultural bent doesn’t foster natural environment for a rich, contemplative relationship with God to thrive. More often, I want to hand God a slot of my time and pat myself on the back for leaving Him some white space: “Here’s your time, God. GO!

So, yes, I’m still learning these unhurried, attentive rhythms. Truth be told, I’m sure that most witnesses to my life would hardly describe it as “unhurried”! But in my relationships with people and with God, perhaps a little Africa is just what this mzungu needs.
[1] The author recommends this and further thoughts discussed in Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson (2006).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Would you pray?

I've told you a bit about the Bible class I teach at the local refugee center on Thursdays. We do crazy stuff: songs, drama, candy throwing, crossword puzzles, to hopefully engage them in these powerful truths. Over half of my students are of a different religion, and as I get to know them more--their stories, traditions, former occupations, beliefs--my heart longs for them to experience real freedom and healing, through Jesus.

Now, after nine months of laying the foundation of the Old Testament, and building relationships with them, today I'm sharing the Messianic prophecies with them. Next week, I'm hoping to show The Nativity Story. I am so energized to get to the heart of God's story with them, and for them! And the stakes, though completely in God's hands, feel high.

I'd love you to pray for my students, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador...that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Thanks, friend.

On the Road (again)

This is the photo I received from my husband this week.

(And for those of you who have seen Despicable Me, that is not the inflatable version.) He's in Cairo for the eMi director's conference as their new international human resources director (Do I sound proud of him? Well. I am). Wish I could convey how cool it is to see this guy use his gifts in his sweet spot to serve God's people. Would love your prayers for him in this extensive trip.

This is following a crazy month. During a large portion of my parents' visit, John was actually training missionaries from around East Africa, largely Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to help other missionaries emerging from crisis situations. He also served on the board of the Mobile Missionary Care team with some of the other trainers and member care professionals from East Africa.

I, of course, have my own colorful but far less blogworthy experiences corralling our slightly nutty offspring back here in Kampala. Today on the way 10 minutes from our house, I saw a) a motorcycle carrying a full-sized deep freeze, b) a kitten thrown out of a truck that I nearly ran over. (Did not find the kitten. ) c) a shirtless man wrapped in a fluffy green towel looking like he was on his way to the shower.  My friend reports that she saw a man last week pushing a ten-foot-tall unicycle in the same location. This makes me wonder if this spot is simply the traffic equivalent of a full moon...? Of course, another friend reports that she saw someone riding a camel last week. Indeed. Of the many things traffic is here, boring it is not.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thursdays at the Giving Tree

Someone recently related a telling statistic to me regarding third culture kids (TCK's--like missionary kids). According to my friend and a study she read, one of the most common traits of missionary kids who succeed is their ability to catch the vision of their parents.
This ricocheted around in my brain as I considered the gap currently left by our homeschooling co-op; several of the students will be attending a local international school this year. The reality is, I wanted to fill that time with some kind of way that my kids could love on people there. Could they have a ministry of their own, and be changed in the process?

But then there's that homeschooling mom reality: I'm the one who drives them to schoolwork, But then there's that homeschooling mom reality: I'm the one who drives them to schoolwork, chores, home responsibilities, music lessons, better behavior. I didn't want to "drive" them to ministry. Plus, I want them to experience more of what ministry ideally is--pouring out from an area of gifting, strength, and passion. I have three boys who I preferred not roll their eyes every week when it was time to go to a local babies' home.
And that's when someone told me about a library where some of our interns volunteer: The Giving Tree. Run by a South Korean missionary who lives on our lane, it's down in a lower-income area that's not far from our house, and offers computer classes, music classes, art classes, a Good News Bible club, and a small room full of children's books. What if my kids, who adored library storytime in the States from the time they were toddlers, could host a storytime for local kids?

So for a little over a month or two, we've trekked down for songs, a story read by each of my oldest kids and translated into Luganda, a simple craft, and playtime. And it's a hit all the way around. I love seeing my kids interact so naturally with children so different from them. And it's great for the village kids to see kids their age read entertaining, vivid stories fluently in English, a second language for the village children, hopefully passing on a love of reading.


And every now and then, we see snippets of why we're here, and how this library is influencing the community--like the little girl singing "You are my All in All" while she colored her picture yesterday. For right now, this is a blessed, exciting fit for all of us. God is doing something great in this community.


Weeks like last week can sharpen the tip of the longing we feel for our families: where sweet news is tinged with the reality that we savor the milestones and deep joys of family, but can't touch them or share them in person.

That said--I have a new NEPHEW! Meet Theodore Henry, 9 lbs.--the firstborn of my sister Jenn and her husband Chris in the UK. Theo, we are so thankful for your life! Celebrating you in Africa !!
My dad, with grandpa-level happiness.
Theo and entourage

My mom with her eighth grandchild!

But Theo's birth did give us something in person: It brought my parents to this hemisphere--and at last, down to us! We are beside ourselves with glee. I am told that the little people at my house are not so little anymore. So we are soaking up these sweet moments together. There are so many words to describe it, but thankful is certainly one of them.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I wish I could FaceTime God

Author's note: This post originally appeared on, and is gratefully used with permission.

I wish I could FaceTime God.

Over here in twenty-first-century Africa, as long as my power is on and my internet is not having a grumpy day, I am still able to “phone home.” Mornings are out because of that pesky time zone issue. But when my day is done and I sit on my locally made furniture in my pajamas, frizzy hair embodying a little of my frizzy, exhausted brain, my mom is still feeling perky. And somehow, when the rest of my day feels disconnected and I am wondering if I am tired for good reasons, I still want to go where everybody knows my name. Or at least my family does. And tonight, when for one reason or another extra moisture is building up around the edges of my eyes from the questions in my heart, I wish I could FaceTime God.

Perhaps I would press His contact information, feel that familiar dialing anticipation—will He pick up? (Of course!) Will this be a good time? (Of course!)—and sense that lopsided smile cross my face when that strange tone indicates success: I’m getting through. “I’m so glad you called!” He might say. “I was just thinking about you!”

“As was I,” I would grin. “What are you up to?” I doubt he would be headed to Target, like my sister, or out fixing a car in the garage, like my Dad. So perhaps He would relay some of His godly activities: not the confidential ones, of course, but the coolest sunrise He laid His brush to that day; or the funniest, cutest thing this one kid prayed; or that precious, intimate moment when He carried someone to Heaven and they finally got to feel how much He loved them, to physically encounter His touch. Maybe I would see that compassion as He talked about a tough time one of his kids was enduring, but how great it was going to be when they knew the whole story.

I would see the unearthly FaceTime glow on His face (nope, considerably more than a FaceTime glow), and be able to read His expressions and see what He was thinking; to sense that uncontainable joy He always has, that peace that everything does indeed work out all right in the end, because He made it that way.

“So what have you been up to, sweetheart?” He might say. He is so good at that, I’ve seen. In the Bible, He is always asking questions to which He already fully knows the answer. He seems to affirm, as John Calvin has written,“True wisdom consists in two things: Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self”—that as I understand this lens (my heart) through which I see Him, I understand Him more, and vice versa. Perhaps He might say, “Why are you downcast?” or “What do you want me to do?” or all of those other questions He asked millennia ago. Maybe He would look in my eyes and say, as I am now fond of asking, “How is your heart?” Or perhaps He would ask me my very own question.

At any rate, as we talked, I anticipate I would have one of those moments when I really am so glad I called: When I want to reach through the screen and say, Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for loving me like this. Thank you for having a minute to talk. And thank you for letting me see your lovely face that I miss so much; thank you for being who You are. You amaze me.

Now, I know that this theologically flattens the unlimited dimensions of our great God. When I think of Isaiah 6, I feel sheepish that I would want to confine God to Apple technology. When I think of the Holy Spirit, I know He is in all ways infinitely superior to any handheld device. When I think of Him being the Word, speaking the Word, I have no small trepidation even imagining putting words into His mouth. When I think that we live by faith and not by sight, I remember that the relationship I hold with the Creator of the Universe is far more astonishing and valuable than anything I glimpse with these eyes, so tethered to their planet and its physical laws. I know that His sheep know His voice, and they do not need FaceTime.

And yet—sometimes, perhaps in weakness, I want to FaceTime God.