Alyssa Stephens
Alyssa Stephens
Uganda, 2022-2023
Grace and peace to you! My name is Alyssa, and I am spending a year in Jinja, Uganda working with HEAL Ministries. HEAL is an organization that offers wrap-around services to champion sustainability and family preservation. I graduated from Belmont in May 2022 and feel abundantly blessed to embark on this new journey. Read More About Alyssa →

spontaneity + sparkles


Hi hi!

Greetings to you! I hope you’re doing pretty good today.

As I look back on the last two weeks, there are three small but beautiful memories that stand out. Hehe here, I’d like to share:

One of the highlights of my week is going to Bible study on Sunday afternoons! The ladies who join for the Bible study are from quite a spectrum of churches, workplaces, and other communities in Jinja, making it a fun and eclectic group. We are studying the book of John together, and discussing with them is continually a rich, thought-provoking experience.

Pretty unexpectedly this past Sunday, many of the ladies messaged in our group chat saying that they would be unable to attend the study for various reasons. Dana, the lady who hosts the study, invited me (and anyone else who was free) to come over to her house anyways to spend some time just hanging out. When I arrived, I was excited to see that two other gals were there, and they were in the midst of some serious work involving a Little Debbie snacks puzzle. To my delight, I got to join in on the puzzle making, and we spent the next couple of hours puzzling together. Eventuaaally, we solved the puzzle (perhaps due, in part, to the silent encouragement of Nutty Buddys, Moon Pies, and Zebra Cakes)! Hehe I’m not sure what was better—enjoying the satisfaction of the puzzle solved or sharing memories related to Little Debbie snacks and Ugandan snack foods.

The second highlight also took place on a Sunday, though the week before. Two weeks ago, there was a thunderstorm that started at some point in the night and continued well into Sunday morning. Though I was able to make it to church, a large portion of people were not able to leave their homes due to the amount of rainfall and the road conditions. One of these people that wasn’t able to venture out was my friend C. As I was leaving the church service, I had an idea—to stop by her house and check in on her! Given the spontaneity of the visit and the opportunity for uncomfortability that it might bring, it is something I would’ve thought of but been too insecure to follow through on several months ago. Even on Sunday, as I was walking to her house, I felt a strange sense of fear. “What if she feels intruded upon?” “What if I am overstepping?” Having been the recipient of precious Ugandan hospitality and care over and over again over the past months, I resolved that many of my friends would act in the same way if in a similar position. More personally, I have come to realize that a) regret runs deep in spaces where fear led to inaction and b) fear of conflict can actually hinder the connections I am trying to form in the name of conflict avoidance. With all of this in mind, I plodded one foot in front of the other all the way to C’s house.

I knocked on C’s door, and lo and behold, she was surprised but happy for the visit! We enjoyed some nice chats, sat outside and soaked in the sunshine that eventually peeped out, and I even got to hold the neighbor’s baby towards the end of the visit! I am thankful for this memory—and hope to vulnerability reach out and risk conflict as other opportunities arise in the coming days.

This past Thursday, I walked upstairs to where some of the preschool students were gathered and noticed that there was a bit of a buzz amongst them. One of the boys had several small pieces of silver glitter (what we called “sparkles”) scattered all over his face. After oohing and ahhing over the sparkles, a couple of the kids had a brilliant idea: “let’s start looking for more sparkles on the ground!” What transpired over the next 15 minutes was a sweet, humorous time of about five kids hunting all over the tiled floors for sparkles, yelping with joy when one was found, and placing the sparkle either on their own face or on the face of a friend. I felt like such a kid in the best way possible, as sparkles were placed on my cheeks and forehead. These minutes together were filled with fun, brightening all of our spirits for the day ahead.

Though you may be thinking that this little memory is over—hehe it is not! Later Thursday afternoon, two preschool girls, their caretakers, and I were walking into town. My oh my, what a marvelous sight caught our eyes as we spotted none other than the broken container for glitter in which the sparkles once lived! Along with the broken container we’re many, many sparkles all over the grass. The girls and I immediately bent over and grabbed some sparkles. The two of them had a little extra pep in their steps as they proudly wore sparkles on their faces as we continued to make the journey into town. There is some thing precious about the child-like wonder of moments like these. That I got to experience two of these moments, connected and so sweet, on the same day was a delight!

Haha of course, the past two weeks held all sorts of moments, and these are just the few I’m sharing today. May they bring a bit of lightness to your heart.

With love,


High: On Wednesday, I FaceTimed my dad, Mawmaw (his mom), and Mawmaw’s long-time friend Barb. My goodness, I felt a more Southern drawl coming out as we chatted! We talked about Rocky’s grooming earlier in the day—haha he is a bit of a dog-turned-child,—our favorite bedtimes, and how bananas bought in America just cannot compare to those found in Uganda. It was sweet, authentic, and simple time with people I love so.

Low: Last week, I was alone in the classroom with the children for a brief period, and we were passing out porridge for breakfast. One of the girls came up to the porridge tray and tried to pick the special orange cup for herself, instead of sitting in her seat and waiting for a porridge cup to be handed to her. I found myself trying to get her to return the porridge, feeling a bit helpless in my own ability to get her to listen and also frustrated that she would not forsake her own will in the name of mine by obeying. Both in the moment and after, this interaction felt like a strange sort of power struggle. A struggle I did not want to be in and also, quite frankly, did not know how to manage.

Buffalo: While at the market with a few friends on Saturday, Anna randomly spotted these fried balls of some sort that a lady was selling. Being the cool, adventurous gal she is, she encouraged all of us to try them with her. Inside the seemingly breaded outer layer was a ball of white rice, which had nice flavor! When I got to the James Place on Monday and told my fellow teachers about it, they were like, “Ah! Alyssa, you ate godi (short for namungodi)!” Haha they were both amused by the novelty of this food item for me and my friends and excited that we tried a new Ugandan food. How fun it is to be immersed in a new culture, where opportunities to learn and experience new things continually arise!

Words of Wisdom: This week, I am not sure I have a particular quote as much as I would encourage you to read “What We Wish Were True” by Tallu Schuyler Quinn if you get the opportunity. It is a series of short essays full of wisdom related to life, social service, faith, and especially Quinn’s journey through terminal brain cancer. A lot of the book is filled with rich imagery and seemingly small stories with profound reflections on death, meaning, and community.

a photo with small friends during a late workday for their pottery-making mommas

N happily posing by her artwork

the delicious treat everyone enjoyed to celebrate letter Ii—locally-made ice cream!

hehe the kiddos cheesin’ with their ice cream craft

all smiles to spend time playing together last weekend

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