“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit He removes, and prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” John 15: 1-2
Have you ever thought about how terrible a tree or bush appears after it’s been pruned? You step back and look at it and think “why did they do that?” If we’re honest it looks awful and ugly for a season, it can even be an eye sore and we’re just waiting for the new growth to appear. We’ve seen this process before and know it will be healthier and fuller than it was, but the pruning had to take place first. I thought before coming to Uganda I knew what this scripture meant, I thought I had been pruned before and I guess in a sense I had, but when God cuts away everything in your life you experience the pain of this process in a way that is almost indescribable and it hurts. You learn to trust that He will bring beauty in His time.
We came to Uganda because we love Jesus and wanted to walk out in faith what He had asked us to do. We came to Uganda with the expectation of thriving in ministry while simultaneously leading our own children to know the Lord in a deeper, more authentic way. We came to Uganda expecting great things to take place because of course when you step out in faith and agree with God to move your family half-way around the world then great things will happen. We came to Uganda knowing it would be hard being away from home and that we’d face challenges and difficulties but that we’d be so excited about the work God was doing the challenges would pale in comparison. We came to Uganda with a heart for Christ and a desire to share His love and goodness and see lives transformed by the Gospel of Jesus. By His grace we have seen many of these things. We have seen him transform hearts, we’ve seen students give their hearts to Christ, we’ve seen them cling to God’s word in some of the most difficult situations we have ever heard of and then apply that truth to others as they lead devotion, and we’ve seen God grow us closer to Him in the process.
All of the expectations and goals we had in mind when we came were good, Godly and even desirable, but it isn’t good for them to be our primary focus if they don’t align with everything God is doing in you. Don’t be mistaken, God has done, is doing and will continue to do incredible work through The Amazima School. However, some of these high expectations we always associate with doing ministry can cause a great deal of pain and frustration if it isn’t the only thing God is doing in your life. Almost immediately after arriving on Ugandan soil my spirit sensed that the reasons I thought God brought us here were different from His, and in that moment I knew this was going to hard in a way I couldn’t yet comprehend. And God is so gracious, right? Not allowing us to know more than we need to when He reveals pieces of what He’s doing.
The months that followed were both beautiful and heartbreaking, we saw glimpses of joy and experienced long periods of sorrow and God was there in the midst of it all, refining us.
“The third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9
Ben was quickly very effective and amazing at building relationships with the students, he has always thrived at youth ministry and is incredible at relying a clear Word from the Lord. Though I’m not naturally comfortable in youth ministry, I’ve always thrived with children, I poured myself into trying to grow spiritually and relationally in this environment. It was challenging and hard, I struggled to connect with the students and ministry in a meaningful way, while at the same time desiring and needing to meet the needs of our own children. While we tried to prepare for many “what if” scenarios before coming, there were so many we couldn’t have possibly been prepared for and that God was simply desiring for us to walk out with Him. One thing I have been stubbornly committed to this entire year was not allowing our children to become a casualty from doing full time ministry. However, it took me a while to realize that not only did they leave everything they knew behind, home, family, friends, dogs etc. they also lost the only family dynamic they’d ever known, and that was hard for them in a way we couldn’t have been prepared for. They struggled with having to “share” their Daddy while I struggled to make sure I was helping them through all of this in the best way at the same time I was feeling disconnected from the work we were here to do. All the while I was praying for God to connect my heart and to comfort Audrey and Gabe’s and make a way for us in this place. Feeling disconnected to the work you are doing can be disheartening and depressing anywhere, but especially in a third world country without your normal support system and cultural freedoms. I spent months seeking ways to connect and honestly tired myself out in doing so, when really God wanted me, He wanted me to come to know Him in a way I never had before. And branch by branch He was stripping everything away and revealing His character to me in a new way.
Several weeks ago, the disconnectedness and depression I’d been experiencing for months became more intense and was making the daily routine of going through the motions more difficult than before. While I mentally knew God would bring good from all of this and that He was at work in me, none of it made sense and my heart and spirit struggled to see the light and the good that was to come. I began to recognize the power of the spiritual warfare that encircles us here, witchcraft is prevalent and openly accepted in most communities and child sacrifice while not accepted by the majority still has an all too common stronghold in the villages and still happens nearby. It was if my spirit was taking on the pain of everything around me without me even knowing it and was grieving me in the deepest way. Last week, after months of crying out to the Lord it all came to a head. We began to fast and pray, continuing to wrestle with the Lord begging Him for clarity for our family. In His perfect timing, not a minute too soon or too late God answered, in the most loving, gracious way, just as He always does for His children. When falling asleep one night last week I was continuing to pray and heard Jesus whisper “there is no condemnation in Christ.” The next morning, I opened my Bible to Psalms 7 – 8 and read the devotion that went along with it. The Lord continued to speak His grace over me and our family. Part of the devotion read “We bear the image of God. We matter because we matter to Him.” I’ve spent much of my life trying to earn the approval of others and through this season of pruning God has continuously spoken grace and affirmation over me, regardless of what I produce. I knew He was answering my prayer for us to go home but He was also answering an even bigger prayer of my heart to be fully and completely content in Him and in His love and His abundant grace. Since then He has brought unity and peace to our family in a way that is hard to describe, He’s confirmed His leading in so many big and small ways that allow us to experience the depth of His love for each of us. We have confidence that we have done what God called us here to do, we stepped out in faith, and in our coming and in our leaving HE is glorified. The freedom in Christ He’s given to us here has broken many chains that had us bound, some we weren’t even aware of. He is good and He is faithful and we couldn’t have experienced Him in a deeper way if our coming here had met our expectations.
While our testimony is not the one we anticipated sharing it is the one God has written in our lives for this season and for that reason we look forward to sharing more with all of you about what God has done in the past 10 months and give Him glory for His unrelenting love. We feel honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of the story He is writing for each one of the young men in the Elisha House, He has allowed us to help lay a foundation and plant seeds in their lives and we trust Him to bring the harvest in His time. We are grateful for Him allowing us to work with our partner, Ahmed, this year, he has an incredible heart for Christ and equipped us to be able to minister in this culture, we are grateful for how he poured into our lives and has loved our family and how God has used him to teach us about patience and grace and true ministry that we pray will bear fruit in our future lives and in ministry. We are so thankful for many friends made here, both Ugandan and Western who will forever have a special place in our hearts. With that being said, we’re coming home, to stay, with full hearts, an unforeseen testimony and thankfulness for all He has done. He has given us connections to continue investing spiritually and materially in God’s work as He continues to bring the Kingdom near and transform Uganda with the light of the Gospel through meeting direct needs and equipping locals doing incredible ministry. Thank you for standing with us in prayer, support, love and encouragement this past year, you have all been a part of this and it was worth it, we are grateful from the bottom or our hearts and give praise and honor to the Lord God Almighty through Christ our Savior for all the fruit that together, with you all, we have seen him bring during this season. Thank you for your investment in us and the Kingdom. We will continue give updates periodically for all those who are interested in seeing how the work and investment continues. We look forward to seeing you soon!
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8