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Honestly, I’m not sure how to even begin to summarize the past four and a half months.  I’d like to tell you how it’s been all sunshine and roses and how easy it’s been to thrive here but the truth is that it’s been hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s emotionally draining, it’s exhausting and it’s exactly where God wants us right now.  Here are some things I’ve learned to be true.  I know the past four months have been some of the most rewarding months of my life while simultaneously being some of the hardest.  I know there is a big difference in taking a mission’s trip and living everyday life in a culture not your own.  I know mosquitoes are my least favorite creature on the face of earth, however snakes are a close second (more on that later). I know that 78 degrees on the equator feels more like 98 degrees.  I know what it feels like to not have running water for a few days and how thankful I was when it returned, and water easily flowed from the tap.  I know that the devil is real and would try to do anything he can to discourage us and make us feel like “it isn’t worth it, that the problem is too big and even if we change a few young men we can’t entirely change the culture they live in so what is the point?”  I know that previous statement well because it’s the lie I’ve believed on some of my hardest days.   I know that 18 young men have been loved, cared for, and discipled in a way we pray allows them to experience the love of the Father.   I know that God is so faithful and

For our momentary and light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

The first few weeks of term one were marked by getting to know the boys, learning some individual details about their lives and beginning to build a foundation for a deeper relationship. Our Ugandan partner, Uncle Ahmed, has been a special gift to us.  Not only is he an excellent work partner, he’s also wise beyond his years in dealing with issues with the boys and has helped us be better at our job here.  We’d have made many mistakes without his guidance and cultural influence in decision making, we are so grateful God placed us with him in this season.  IMG-4347One of the things we love most about this job is that it is all about building relationships that point the students to Christ.  We don’t feel the urge to push the boys into a new relationship with Jesus or to grow faster than the Spirit is leading them because this model of daily discipleship over a period of time allows God to work and for them to ask the hard questions and discover for themselves that He is who He says He is and that His Word is alive and He can be trusted.

Our typical week consists of early morning devotions (6:45 am), afternoon sports, conversations, homework and games on the veranda.  On Tuesday afternoons we have Clubs, they are essentially an extracurricular activity where students get to choose an area of interest to learn skills pertaining to.  Some of the club offerings are chef, auto-mechanics, photography and entrepreneurship to name a few.  Each family mentor is assigned a club to advise and this year Ben and I are advisors to the Service and Stewardship Club. On Wednesday mornings we don’t have house devotions because it’s “Wash Day” where the students wash their clothes, by hand, and hang on the line to dry between 5:30 – 7 am.   On Wednesday’s after dinner we have Chapel and it’s either “free worship” that is a student led night of music or KAMP (Kids at Amazima moving with passion) where we have worship time, a speaker and then we break into small groups for discussion on what was taught during chapel.  Family Mentors are also facilitators of the small groups, so I along with 3 other female mentors lead a group of 10 girls for personal conversations and talking out issues, questions, prayer requests etc.  Ben does the same for 10 boys. On the weekends we are assigned on Saturday mornings an area of campus to carryout cleaning duties for “campus chores,” there aren’t any “janitors” here, so all cleaning is done by the students. One Saturday each term our house does a service project in the village, the one we took part in during term one was for a grandfather raising two of his grandsons.  We did general cleaning, laid a brick sidewalk to help keep mud from flowing into the house when it rained and moved a cow that was too close to the house and making the children sick.  It was humbling to serve this family and to witness how wholeheartedly the boys served this man was inspiring. IMG_3455 Generally, on Saturday evenings the Student Life department has a whole school activity planned such as game nights, movie nights, talent shows etc.  On Sunday mornings we have worship service at 10:30 am and then the remainder of the day is free for the students for homework, sports, games etc.  Each Sunday evening, we have house meetings where we are cultivating an encouraging environment by first pointing out things we’ve been proud of in individuals through the week and the asking the boys to do the same.  We also use that time to discuss any issues that need to be addressed to help make the house run more smoothly.  We also got to visit some of our boys families prior to the first term visitation day, the home visits are primary to the mission of The Amazima School to show these families they are valued and loved and that we are not here to replace them but to simply come alongside them in shepherding their children as they grow.  We will be on home visits again this week prior to the start of term two on Monday, May 27th.

We have been encouraged throughout the term to see the boys grow from a place of silence during morning devotions to now contributing to conversation, volunteering to read scripture references and willingness to lead in prayer without being asked. A few of our boys, who couldn’t even hold their head up and greet you when they first arrived, now smiling and actively pursing conversations with the mentors is so heartwarming to experience. Holy Week was amazing as the week prior to we had focused on an attitude of gratefulness that really set the stage for thankful hearts for our Savior coming to earth to bear our sins on the cross.IMG-3979 On Wednesday evening we shared dinner together on the veranda with the boys followed by a foot washing ceremony, though the boys were a bit uncomfortable at first, they were humbled that we would wash their feet and pray with them individually.  We followed the ceremony with a short message and quiet worship in the chapel.  We are continuing to praise Jesus for drawing 3 of the Elisha House young men to Himself on Good Friday.  Following our devotion that morning Derrick, Titus and George T. gave their heart to Christ.  On Easter Sunday we hiked to the overlook above campus and were led in worship by the boys, it was pretty inspiring to see them singing and leading on such a special day.  We were also blessed to call into our church worship service at Childrey, it made us feel closer to home on a day when we were missing our family and church family.

Audrey and Gabe also wrapped up their first term at the Staff School.  While overall it was a good experience it also presented some challenges.  Obviously, it’s a small number of students (30 total) therefore, especially at our kids ages, “drama” can be elevated.  We were a little caught off guard to have to deal with some “bullying” from another student in Gabe’s class.  It was clear to us that it was an attack of the devil that lead to some good teaching moments for us with Gabe but my Mama heart hurt as this was something we’d never dealt with at home and it felt like a harder blow coming from another “MK” (missionary kid).  We were so thankful for how the other family involved pursued us to prayerfully and wholeheartedly show the boys how to mend relationships the way Jesus would. Both kids ended the term with really good grades and we’re so proud of them for how they have adjusted and pushed through and thrived despite so many changes at once.  I truly admire their strength and am so grateful for how God has protected and provided for them.

 

Gabe has especially made close relationships with the boys in the house, he really loves them, loves spending time with them so much that at most meals he chooses to eat the traditional Ugandan food with them from the kitchen here on campus.  Audrey has been blessed with some sweet friends here on campus, Ronni and Maddy, whose parents are also first year mentors as well and Maggie whose family has been here two and a half years and is a great role model for our girl.

We’ve enjoyed our term break especially with my Mom and Gene getting to come and spend most of it with us.  We went over to Kenya for a few days and enjoyed the beach there, although to me it wasn’t as great as Myrtle Beach it was incredible to get to see the Indian Ocean and keep our beach tradition alive with my Mom and Gene.  Gene flew back home from Nairobi and Mama returned to Jinja with us for another week and a half.  We’ve loved having her here so much that I’m not sure I’ll let her leave on Tuesday.  The hardest part of this journey is being away from home, especially for us coming from such a close family and tightknit community.

I remember saying while we were preparing to come to Uganda that I was so thankful for all the ways God had made it clear that He wanted us here because on the hard days those would be the stones we stacked up to help get us through.  Since we arrived in January the devil has tried everything to make us want to leave.  One week after being here another local ministry, one that Amazima works closely with, the Americans living there were attacked during the night by men demanding money, computers, phones etc. following that attack there were several others in the area that were directly targeting Westerners.  Then about a month and a half later an American tourist was kidnapped in Queen Elizabeth National Park here in Uganda, thankfully she was safely returned, however it was still unsettling for us.  We’ve also been dealing with snakes on campus, apparently something they’ve never had issues with before.  There is land being cleared right next to campus so it’s driving snakes out and there have been numerous snakes killed on verandas, sidewalks and even one classroom and most of these are extremely venomous, there really aren’t harmless snakes in Africa.  Thankfully the on campus clinic has anti-venom, we pray it’s something we’ll never need to use.  All of this to say the devil has certainly tried to scare and discourage us on the safety front.  Although none of these things are easy to deal with or process they are actually promised to us in the Bible as Christ followers and bearers of the Gospel.  James 1 says

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

I am defiantly in a process of learning to trust God in ways I never have before and although being stretched and refined is never fun in the moment it leads us into a deeper relationship with the Father and that makes it all worth it.

 

A few prayer requests as we begin term two:

  • For God to continue opening the hearts of the boys who are struggling to believe.
  • That seeds from first term will have fallen on fertile ground.
  • For courage to endure even when it’s hard.
  • For the missionary community here on campus be united and working together in love daily for our good and His glory.

 

Thank you all so much for loving, supporting and praying for us faithfully on this journey.   We couldn’t do this without the army of support we have and we are eternally grateful.

10 comments on “Term 1 and 4 months in Uganda

  1. Nancy and B.W. says:

    Praise God for all y’all are doing in His name. We miss each of you but we know you are where God can use you. Love and kisses 😘 to each of you. God has his armor of protection around you all. Stay strong and know you are in our prayers continually. We have y’all covered with love and prayers. 💕❤️

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    1. Nancy, thank you so much for your faithfulness in prayer for us. We miss you all greatly but are so thankful for your love and support. Love you all.

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  2. We experience a lot of the same issues… but you are SO right in saying that although time spent as a long term missionary is difficult, it is so incredibly rewarding. I know that God is being glorified through your love and your work. Way to go, Updikes! We are proud of you all for enduring the difficult to make His name great!

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    1. Whitney, thank you for encouraging us and for being an example of how to walk through these challenges with grace and strength. I continue to be amazed at how you all live for Jesus!

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  3. Martha Filson says:

    Your decision to undertake this journey, not only for you but also your children, left me incomplete awe! You’ve faced every challenge by focusing on the rewards. Truly amazing family.

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    1. Martha, thank you. Only by the grace of God. We are thankful for you, your support and encouragement!

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  4. Lisa henderson says:

    Praying that God keeps your body and mind strong.

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    1. Lisa, thank you! We appreciate the prayers more than you’ll ever know.

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  5. Heather Waltrip says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Ive enjoyed so much watching your updates. I appreciate your honesty, because we all know ministry is HARD and not always “roses and Sunshine”. God is doing some amazing work through your family, and I pray that your family will remain strong against the devil’s scheme’s. God bless you guys!!

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    1. Heather, thank you. The days can be hard and we desperately miss our family and friends but we know God is faithful and our heart is for Him to be glorified. Thank you for encouraging us!

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