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 →

a case of the garbage truck giggles

Earlier this week, I was sitting in the social work office working on organizing files when I heard a chorus of cheers and giggles of approximately 35 little ones.

“Do they see a monkey in one of the property’s trees? Did the kitchen staff surprise them with a special snack? What could it be?” I thought to myself. Curiosity getting the best of me, J, and R (the social workers I work alongside), all three of us stood up and peered outside to see what was going on.

Before our eyes was the garbage truck, pulling into the James Place property to pick up this week’s trash. Seeing the gates swing open and the bright blue truck pull into the property caught the childcare children’s attention and delight. From the squeals and laughter to the fixated stares and waves, one simply passing by may have supposed that a rainbow unicorn or at the very least the local ice cream man must have come for a visit. The fact that (at least to my knowledge) neither of these actually did show up evidenced that the garbage truck’s presence alone was enough to erupt all sorts of joy in the children’s souls.

Apart from this unexpectedly happy moment, a few other memories from the past two weeks stand out:

— Once a month, there is a day called Fun Friday, where HEAL closes at lunchtime so that the staff can enjoy an afternoon of cheer and rest! This month, Fun Friday was especially vibrant because there was a HEAL board member in town for a visit. With no idea what was in store throughout the afternoon, several of the women and I grabbed plates piled high with beans and rice from the kitchen and headed down the path to the grassy space where the afternoon’s festivities were to take place. As we rounded the corner, we saw none other than two bouncing castles blown up in the yard—a water slide and a rock climbing wall of sorts. We were amazed and excited, gulping down our meals before spending the next few hours jumping and playing on the bouncing castles as well as playing games and eating cake. It truly was a joyful afternoon!

As a culminating moment at the end of the event, the executive director, Rachel, made a special announcement—everyone was going home with a food package. With the prices of food and other everyday essentials so high in Uganda right now, this package, filled with rice, beans, flour, sugar, and other staple items was an unexpected and deeply appreciated gift. Laughter and dancing erupted when the announcement was made, and the women left feeling seen and cared for.

— On Saturday, I visited one of the staff members at her home. What a nice day it was—playing with her four kiddos, eating beans and posho, chatting, and walking through her garden! Her hospitality and steady compassion towards her children was deeply encouraging to me. It was a reminder that perhaps the most important ways in which we can follow in the likeness of Jesus are within the ordinary interactions with our close friends and family.

As I reflect on all of these writings and the past two weeks as a whole, I can’t help but find myself circling back on the memory with the children and the garbage truck as the pinnacle moment of the past couple of weeks. Perhaps that is because of how simple (and even stinky) the moment was yet how contagious the kiddos’ giddiness was.

It makes me think about some of the times I miss out on experiencing joy, often because I am busy dwelling on the disparity between where I am and where I want to be and trying to pursue this other, “better” place. Can you relate? For me at this present point in time, my mind easily becomes distracted by thinking about the close community I want to have here in Jinja but don’t yet. The local language I want to know but simply don’t understand. A knowledge of what’s to come in the future that I want to have but don’t right now. In my quest to reconcile the current reality with unfulfilled hopes, delighting in little moments can get pushed to the back burner.

I believe it is important to acknowledge hard things and deferred hope, the pain and suffering in our own lives and in those of others. Perhaps it is also possible to simultaneously see each day as a blessing from God and delight in the tiny gifts present as our lives unfold. The little moments—our individualized garbage truck moments,—are the little stars that dot the skies of our lives, filling them up so that when we take a step back every once in a while, we see a wondrous constellation masterpiece.

With this, I wish you well until next time and thank you again for following along on this journey 🙂

Annd I just must ask—have you by chance had your own version of a garbage truck moment this week?

With love,



High: Hehe I think my high moments are the aforementioned ones. Yippee for bouncing castles, timely food packages, and delightful staff visits!

Low: Missing out on an opportunity to be generous with the bananas I bought at the market because I didn’t want to have to make the trip back to the market to buy more. How much sweeter it is to give than to hoard up for oneself, even if it can be so difficult to move away from a scarcity mindset.

Buffalo: Interestingly different than the common American school schedule (in which a lot of students have a two-month long summer break and just started back for the new year), students here in Jinja have three terms spread out over the course of the year. The new school year starts in January, and Term Two in particular runs from May until August with a three-week break until the beginning of September. As a result, this past week has been filled with grading the James Place preschoolers’ assessments, filling out report cards, and freshening up classrooms before the students and teachers go on break. It has been a fun, busy week!

Words of Wisdom: In the words of Priscilla Shirer, “Your level of faith will always be tied to your perception of God…you don’t need more faith; you need a more comprehensive and accurate view of the faithfulness of your God.”

the ladies and i were gr-EE-ning ear to ear all afternoon as we enjoyed this vibrant Fun Friday bouncing castle

my friend H, who so graciously welcomed me to her home on Saturday

delicious popo–or papaya–H grew in her garden! what a treat they were to eat

walking through Central Market after work with my friend S to pick up some fresh dinner foods

P doting on the cutest boda boda driver either of us have ever laid eyes on

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