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 →

bittersweet goodbyes + joyful reunions

Hello!

It is a bit surreal to be saying this, but I am writing to you from the front porch of the place I stay at in Jinja! What a special place this is and a sweet thing it is to be back!

As I look back on the past three months spent in Memphis, a major theme of the time was family! Throughout the months, I worked as an assistant for my Aunt Carol and took my Mimi and Papa on errands and to doctor’s appointments. I spent many evenings eating dinner with Mom, Dad, and Logan before Mom and I watched t.v. shows together—except for on Fridays when we went out to dinner with my Mawmaw. The family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and Aunt Carol and I even rang in the New Year together by dancing our hearts out at a tango party! After being away at college and then in Uganda, I was touched by the way the family welcomed me with open arms, enfolding into their everyday activities, and by how we picked up right where we last left off. As unexpected as being back at home was, it was a precious reminder of how indelible our family bond is—and of all the unique qualities that make each family member a joy to know and love.

Spending such quality time with loved ones made it difficult to prepare to return to Uganda, as being away from them felt hard to even fathom. Nonetheless, before I knew it, the day of my flight to Uganda arrived, and I was saying goodbye to Mom and Dad at the airport. Even amidst a flight delay, I made my flight connections and even shared some quality chats with sweet folks along the way. Hehe I learned, amongst other things, about life in a village outside of Gulu, Uganda and about best practices when bargaining in Ugandan and Congolese markets. Over the course of 8- and 10.5-hour flights, I got a couple of winks of sleep and read All is Grace by Brennan Manning. Overall, it was a pretty good expedition!

Once the plane landed in Entebbe, Uganda, I met up with two friends in the airport, and we traveled to a local guesthouse for the night. The next morning, two additional friends arrived, and we shared warm hugs, updates, and teasings over a delicious breakfast. The five of us set off for Jinja, making a few stops along the way. What a joy it was when Jinja town finally came into view! It is a stunning place and was such a treat to be back!

Perhaps even more stunning than the place are the people! When I got back to the place I stay at in Jinja, three of the ladies from HEAL ran up to me, and we exchanged hugs and greetings. Hehe as much as I tried to be composed, I couldn’t help but get weepy—something that was a theme of Monday as I saw all of the HEAL staff again. With a full warm-hug-o-meter and a happy, reunited heart, I look towards the next several months with hope.

Overall, this past week’s big transition has held a mixture of bittersweet goodbyes and joyful reunions. Somehow, the harder moments hurt and the happier moments bring a lightness all at the same time. It is such an interesting swirl of a mixture. At the end of the day, when I reflect on this, I am reminded that life is a flurry of highs and lows. And that above all else, relationships are what matter.

Take care until next time!

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: Two precious ladies, C and S, invited the two new interns and I to eat lunch at their house after church yesterday. Boy oh boy, did they prepare an absolute feast! We enjoyed eating and catching up before heading outside to read books and play games with the kids who live around their house. I am not sure what was more abundant—the laughter or the number of photos taken. When I got home after the occasion, I could not help but balk at all that the ladies prepared for us. Their hearts are gracious and generous, a reminder of how God doesn’t spare anything for His people. Eating lunch with C and S was an experience I will never forget!

Low: Something that wasn’t as challenging for me the first time I travelled to Uganda but has been difficult this time around is jet lag. Since arriving here on Thursday evening, my eating and sleeping schedules have been wonky as my body adjusts to the 9-hour time difference. Hehe while jet lag has given me some time to process my thoughts and feelings at random hours of the night, the lack of quality sleep has made me a bit more lethargic and grumpier than usual. I look forward to when the jet lag symptoms end!

Buffalo: If you want to be tickled by adorable birds, PLEASE look up pictures of Malachite, Woodland, and Pied Kingfishers! They are beautiful birds found across Africa. I got to see them fluttering and chirping on the trees along the Nile River on Saturday!

Words of Wisdom: A quote from author Brennan Manning in All is Grace. If you get a chance and have some time, All is Grace and his book entitled Ragamuffin Gospel are both touching reads!

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough”

Mom posing with the gooey cookies we made for New Years!

hehe after like 5 hours, L, E, and i just had to snap a pic of the labor of our love–cinnamon rolls!

 

the delicious Ethiopian meal my friend D + i shared one afternoon in Memphis

precious people–Mimi, Papa, and Mawmaw

hehe do i look a bit like a dino? a girl has to entertain herself in the airport somehow!

a solid cup of coffee–the key to staying awake when 2:00 CST is also 11:00 GMT

C and S, sweet ladies with big hearts + kind souls

C and S posing with the wonderful palette of food they made

LOTS of kiddos right before we ran + ran + ran playing hide-and-seek

water: to be boiled and traveled across

 

Hi again!

Wishing you tidings of joy and peace this holiday season!

The past few days have been interesting here in Memphis! Last Thursday, the temperature started out fairly warm—in the mid-40s I think—before steadily dropping throughout the day. By the evening, the temperature was below freezing, and wonderful flurries of snow were falling! Throughout Friday, the weather was rather chilly, with the temperature only reaching a mere 14 degrees. Hehe though folks in the North may think this is nothing, the weather was quite unusual for a city that normally gets a max of about 1-2 inches of snow once or twice per year.

Because of the freezing temperatures, there were rolling power outages throughout the city on Friday and Saturday. Even further, starting on Saturday night, a boil advisory went into effect—meaning that we have been using boiled or bottled water for all drinking and food preparation purposes since then. In our house, two large metal pots have been getting more sunshine than they have in the past decade as they sit on the stove with boiling water bubbling away inside.

While the Boil Advisory is a unique circumstance in Memphis, having to purify water before drinking is not uncommon in Uganda. In my experience in Jinja, before using water for consumption purposes, it must be boiled, filtered, or purified via tablet in order to reduce the risk of water-borne illness. After learning the process of filling up our water jug, dropping in a tablet, and then waiting 30 minutes before using the water, the practice of purifying water became  second-nature. In reflection, it strikes me as a bit fascinating how something that is so unusual in one context can be routine in another.

It makes me wonder (a few questions that I leave with you):

  • What are some practices (cultural, socioeconomic, religious, etc.) that, though they seem standard, are actually highly variable among different people?
  • How do commonplace practices create community and tradition? How can they be used to diminish these things?
  • As we head into the new year, what is something that currently is unusual that you or I could make a habit of this year?
  • Are there any practices that have become routine but could be changed?

Haha after inviting you on that sort of metaphysical journey, I will lighten the mood with a happy update—I received news that I can return to Uganda in just about two weeks! WAHOO!!

In recent weeks, the last individual in an Ebola treatment facility was released, and 30 days have passed since the last confirmed case! Even further, there are no contacts being followed-up with. These are wonderful updates that make my return to Uganda something to look forward to in the coming days! I can’t wait to see what the next months in Jinja have in store—and to continue sharing updates with you throughout the journey!

To close out this post, I would like to invite you to pray for the families and loved ones of those who passed away from Ebola. According to a recent WHO report, there were 55 deaths due to the illness. While it may be natural to say “it could have been worse” and “just think about how many people died from COVID” amongst other things (I find myself thinking along these lines), it is true that the 55 were precious, unique people with stories. Loss is hard, and grief can be overwhelming. Could you pray for peace and rest for those grieving from the impact of Ebola?

I hope you know that as I pray for those still feeling the impact of Ebola, I will also be praying for you—for any loss and grief you too are walking through right now.

Thanks again for following along with these posts!

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: About three weeks ago, I helped with set-up and then attended HEAL’s annual benefit dinner and silent auction. What an absolute joy it was to see some of the gals I worked with in Jinja at the event and to honor the stories and lives of the women and children who work at HEAL! Being a part of this event was a reminder of how delightful the HEAL community is—and made me all the more excited to return to Uganda soon!

Another high has been enjoying seasonal treats, watching holiday movies, looking at Christmas lights, and getting together with extended family and friends throughout the month of December! I am thankful for annual Christmas traditions and for sweet community to share them with!

Low: Over the past few weeks, the house has been full as everyone takes a holiday break from high school, college, and work. Even with all of us living under the same roof, it has been tricky to spend intentional time together as an entire family. While thankful for the moments we do have together, I find myself continually longing for all five of us to be present with one another more often.

Buffalo: While helping my Aunt Carol out at her office this week, she suggested that we take a bunch of boxes out of her office, pile them into the nearby conference room, and sort the files inside the boxes in ABC order. Boy were we glad that we had cups of coffee and lively conversation to keep things interesting! After a full morning of sorting and organizing, we had a 17-box snake zigzagging across the room to show! We weren’t sure the file box snake was a great fit as an office pet, soo we returned the boxes to her office at the end of the project!

Words of Wisdom: Striking words about the hoped for and the everyday. This quote is found in Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren.

“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.”

the wonderful pots that have been keep us hydrated over the past few days

setting up the event space for HEAL’s dinner and auction

cheesing for a picture after, in a moment of bravery, i got my nose pierced!

a sweet family Christmas photo (though we are missing Andrea, the photographer)

hehe Logan and i had a fun time putting a festive spin on cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning

a photo from a happy outing to see Christmas lights together

rain rain, go away…wait actually, do stay

 

Today, I decided to do something risky—I went on a walk outside right before a rainstorm. In my defense, I did check the weather station, which said that Arlington, my hometown, wasn’t supposed to get rain until later in the afternoon. Nonetheless, I made it about 0.7 miles to a nearby park before it started downpouring. After an hour and a half of sitting under a gazebo at the park, with the beautiful trees, pattering of rain, and chipper birds to keep me company, I decided to go ahead and make the trek back home. To say the least, it was moist. My hair, face, clothes, and shoes definitely got a nice rinse. Yet, the birds were chirping along the whole way.

As I was walking back home, my mind was flooded with memories of walking in the rain with the ladies at HEAL in Uganda. With umbrellas and even ponchos hard to come by, most of the people there I know face the rain by bundling up in whatever clothing they have, ducking their head down, and walking with a purpose. While perhaps inopportune, this provides a wonderful opportunity to soak in the rain for what it is—a part of nature’s rhythm, a gift to the earth, a blessing to all of the animals (people included) that need it, and a reminder of what we can take in but not control.

On today’s walk, I remembered the time that several friends and I played volleyball in the rain, running to and fro after the muddy ball as the wind guided it in whatever direction it pleased. I reminisced about the afternoon spent sitting in the women’s locker room and napping with several ladies because we couldn’t complete our outdoor work in the rain. I remembered the day when Mr. P, Mr. W, and I sat in the leather shed, trying to talk to one another but unable to hear over the rhythmic thrum of raindrops beating down on the tin roof. A little over 8,000 miles away from those I shared these moments with, yet my heart is still tied to theirs. I am thankful for the reminder of this place and these people that walking home in the rain brings.

Hehe if the above story doesn’t spill the beans—yes, I am still in America. Hopeful of returning to Uganda in mid-November, the date of my departure for the country got pushed back again after an Ebola case was detected in Jinja. Though I am no medical expert, and what I have to share has been found on the WHO’s website and/or heard from friends, let me tell you a little bit about Ebola:

In late September, an Ebola outbreak was declared in Uganda after a case was detected in the centrally located Mubende district. This was especially alarming because Ebola is a severe illness with a high fatality rate, and the present outbreak’s strain—Sudan ebolavirus (SUV)—had not been detected in Uganda since 2012. The virus spreads through human-to-human contact via contact with the blood or body fluids of someone with SUV or who died from SUV. Currently, there is no known treatment for it or vaccination against it. Additionally, the incubation period of the virus in the body is between 2 and 21 days, meaning that up to 3 weeks can pass before someone carrying SUV starts showing symptoms. As of earlier this week, there have been 141 confirmed cases across 9 districts, one of which is Jinja.

Using their best judgement, the HEAL executive leadership team has taken preventative and responsive measures to curb the Ebola’s spread amongst those in the organization. At the beginning of October, they asked me to return to the United States, and those who remained at the James Place took health and safety precautions. Last week, the James Place closed for an early winter holiday. I am thankful that the organization’s leadership is committed to the well-being and safety of all they lead. After talking with a few of the ladies from HEAL, it seems as though they are doing well and looking forward to the extra time off, though worried what Ebola’s spread to Jinja may mean for their family’s health, safety, and economic stability. If you can, please keep them—and the precious people across all of Uganda—in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers.

Although it seems a bit irrelevant in light of the aforementioned information, I would like to share a little bit about what I’ve been up to lately. I must dote on my family for a bit because it has been sweet to have their support throughout the transition and to spend quality time together. My aunt asked me to work as her legal assistant, something I never imagined myself doing but am enjoying learning the ins and outs of. My grandparents and I have gotten to spend ample time with one another, as I help them with housework and travel with them to doctors’ appointments. Over the past couple of weeks, my grandpa and I have shared many cups of coffee together over countless stories of the “good ole days.” Mom and Dad have been gracious in inviting me to join in on the plans they’ve made, and Mom and I have deeply enjoyed watching the new season of The Crown and getting in the Christmas spirit with the Christmas Cookie Challenge. And I’ve gotten to spend intentional moments with precious people through Room in the Inn at a local church.

To be honest, I am a bit more of a cozy sloth than a social butterfly these days, as finding a work-life balance and connecting with other young adults is challenging. I miss college life and Uganda and find myself moving through waves of reverse culture shock. I’m also grappling with this new stage of life—no longer primarily a student and child but also not having full-time employment nor a family of my own. Nonetheless, I am safe. I am healthy. I have what I need and so much more than I could ask for. I am doing okay and, as my sweet cousin-in-law has encouraged, am finding ways “to say yes to this too.”

Thank you for tuning into this latest post, with its modge podge of storytelling, information, and updates! Wishing you peace, hope, and joy as you head into all that December has in store. And hehe if you get the chance, maybe consider walking in the rain sometime soon.

With Love,

Alyssa

 

High: What a joy it was to spend Thanksgiving at home! Talking and eating, eating and talking were the themes of the day as my immediate and extended family members celebrated the holiday together at our house. How nice it was to spend to share an array of wonderful dishes as a family and to let the conversation wander and turn as it pleased!

Low: What a surprise it was to spend Thanksgiving at home. I felt a lot of different emotions arise around the holiday as I thought about where I am and where I thought I would be this time of year. This Thanksgiving, I felt a deeper appreciation for family get-togethers, small chats and check-ins, and access to a warm meal in a home. I also lamented that the sweet potatoes eaten weren’t grown from a garden in Jinja and that I wasn’t able to bake an apple or pecan pie for my Ugandan friends to try.

Buffalo: Earlier this week, one of my friends from Uganda sent a photo of her children to me. They are such cuties! I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that one of the children in particular looks like a mini version of my friend, while the other two kiddos look a bit different. Isn’t it funny how that happens—how siblings can look like one particular parent, the other, or both? How they can look almost identical from one another or be so different?

Words of Wisdom: These words were shared by a lady at Bible study this past Sunday, and they have been sitting in me ever since: “Sometimes people don’t love you the way you want to be loved. That doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their best to love you.” Goodness, how different things might be if we—if I—continually remembered this.

soaking in the rain and memories of Ugandan days as i walked home from the park

hehe it’s the small things–like maximizing on some ambient lighting as i worked at Aunt Carol’s office earlier this month

a sweet MEOW-ment captured of our two family cats one afternoon! they were FELINE comfy + cozy during their nap

one of the sleeping spaces looking ready to go during Room in the Inn last week!

haha i had to commemorate the first evening of Room in the Inn with this church bathroom selfie. how joyful it was to wear a Christmas sweater for the first time this season!

making sure to spend some time with those i love–kids!

 

where i find myself

 

Hi again!

As strange as it feels to be writing this post about my journey in Jinja from the family kitchen table in Arlington, TN, the way that life is filled with so many unexpected twists and turns means that I can’t really feel too astonished. It has been about three weeks since I returned to America from Uganda due to the Ebola outbreak in the country. At least from the angle I see it at right now, things really are okay. Perhaps I can say that because the outbreak, while still very tragic, hasn’t been quite as pervasive as many anticipated and no one I know in Jinja has been affected. Or maybe because my parents have been so generous in welcoming me back into their home for the time being. Or maybe because I’m on the other side of having many big feelings and wrestling with God, struggling to surrender my expectations and desires yet finding peace when I do. Regardless of the exact reason, here I am back in America, and that is okay.

For this post, I wanted to share a few of things that I hold close to my heart and am bringing back from Uganda:

  • The hospitality and generosity of the women at HEAL. The women are just extraordinary, and I am humbled and undeserving yet grateful for the days of living alongside them. They give, invite, and welcome regardless of how they are feeling and whether it makes sense. They help me understand the heart of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and point me towards Jesus’ servanthood.
  • An appreciation for living at a slower pace. Coming from college, where it was normal to have academic or social engagements at any and all hours of the day and night, it was quite a change to rise with the sun, leave unfinished work behind for the next day, and get 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Because we often walk places and activities like washing clothes and cooking meals take longer, moving slower isn’t an option–it is just how things are. For me, living at this speed has allowed my soul to settle.
  • A dependence on God. Being away from the familiar has taught me a lot about finding joy in God alone.
  • An honoring of children. At HEAL, the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is lived out to the fullest. The women care for every child at the James Place as if each one is their own. There is so much we can learn from children and by caretaking for them.
  • A deep love for the beautiful differentness of diverse cultures. Things are quite different in Uganda than in America. Different, not bad. Different, not wrong. Different and not in need of changing. Different and good and precious and a gift to experience. What a joy it was to be immersed in fresh ways of going about life.

I also wanted to share a few of the reasons why I am grateful to be back in the United States:

  • I have been present for the everyday moments that Mom, Dad, and my brother Logan experience. For moments like running to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten dinner ingredient, checking the mail…and then checking it again 45 minutes later because it wasn’t there the first time, and putting up the dishwasher dishes. These moments are real, good, and honest, perhaps the ones that take up most of our time yet aren’t talked about because they are commonplace. I am thankful to see these moments through with my family these days.
  • I get to wear my sweaters and fuzzy socks, zip up my coat (yes, I know it’s only gotten to the 50s but this girl still gets cold!), and walk outside to see the vibrantly-colored leaves on the trees. I get to see pumpkins in people’s driveways, pick pecans from the backyard, and breathe in the crisp fall air. What a gift the seasons are! I am glad to be here to experience autumn.
  • I get to spend time with extended family. Oh, how time marches on, and how difficult the journey of aging can be. I am glad to savor meals, conversations, and hugs with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins while I am at home.
  • I can walk to the library and check out physical books to read. While I have been reading E-books in Uganda and those have satisfied my bookwormish inclinations, there is something sweet about the smell and feel of a physical book. So far, I’ve read Brave New World by Huxley, Gather Together in My Name by Angelou, and Kite Runner by Hosseini—all three were thought-provoking and powerfully written. Hehe and all three were physical copies checked out from the library! I can’t wait to walk down to the library a few more times in the coming weeks–and already have quite the list of books on hold to prove so.

With much that I’ve brought back in my heart from Uganda and several reasons to be grateful for my time here in Arlington, I can say that where I find myself at present is good. Hehe while I am still hopeful of what the future holds on this jolly Jinja journey, I feel a sense of rest and assurance about being here in America right now.

With love,

Alyssa

High: Mom and Dad planned a trip to East TN and Asheville, NC for their fall break this past week and so graciously allowed me to join. What a special time it was to see extended family, spend long, intentional moments in nature, try local restaurants, and play games together in the evenings! My mom, usually pretty laid-back and kind-spirited, is quite the competitive cookie when it comes to Apples to Apples–it was fun to see her in her element for the game!

Low: It’s interesting that perhaps just when we think we’ve arrived at some sort of morally higher ground, something happens to remind us that we still have a long way to go in living gratefully and compassionately. As I’ve been processing the transition back home, I’ve noticed some yucky swirls of self-righteousness and cravings for control in myself. While not so glamorous, they are real. And praise be to God, there is grace.

Buffalo: Haha I have been perplexed and frightened by our two family cats several times since returning to Arlington. Sweet Ellie, the housecat in Uganda, is rather small and looks a bit foxy. She loves attention and spends most moments that I’m home right by my side. Jasmine and Snickers, our family cats, are probably double in size in comparison to Ellie and are much more independent. Oh, how I’ve been startled on multiple occasions by a large creature shifting in the shadows of my closet or emerging from under the sofa. A few moments after my heart rate has skyrocketed, I remember with a sigh that the shifting figure is just Jasmine or Snickers. Their presence has been such a random thing to slowly adjust back to!

Words of Wisdom: This quote is a bit heavy but has given me much to mull over as I consider the dynamics and interactions between myself, family members, and loved ones upon returning home. It’s from Huxley’s Brave New World. Is it true? What do you think?

 “One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.”

the chapati i bought at Lubas Market and brought home for Mom, Dad, and Logan to try–they can now say they’ve, at least to some capacity, had authentic Ugandan food

cheesin’ with freshly-brushed teeth and a small tube of toothpaste the airline so graciously gave us for the long flight

a family photo by High Falls just outside of Asheville 🙂

feeling quite merry to be surrounded by lovely scenery and happily chirping birds in Asheville

Aunt Carol giving a small speech at her judgeship event, something I was glad to be able to attend

accepting an invitation to initiate

 

Hello there!

Many blessings to you today!

In all honesty, I come to you in this post with a handful of sweet memories to share but also with overworked armpits because of all the sweating they’ve been doing lately...because I’ve been fretting time and time again about something I’m not the best at in relationships—initiating.

There is a vulnerability that comes with initiating. For one, you vulnerably invite another person to do something you like to do and, in turn, run the risk of them saying no because they don’t want to be a part of that activity. Even further, there is the vulnerability of putting your whole self out there, saying “I am a human being that needs attention and care, and you do too. Can we come together for a moment of connection, offering ourselves to one another as we do something together?” For an assortment of reasons—some we know and others that dwell below the surface, there is the chance that the other person will say no to our request. That hurts. The potential of feeling hurt is scary.

This being said, some of the most joyful moments and relationships are formed because of the ways in which we’ve put ourselves out there. Because of this, there is hope...that can inspire us to initiate. Even if it means we have especially sweaty armpits as we go about it.

God blessed me with timely encouragement about initiating last week, when we had a 4-day weekend and I had no plans. Two kind gals at HEAL said, “Hey remember that everyone wants to be wanted” as they challenged me to step out and ask someone on staff at HEAL to do something together. That very afternoon, opportunities arose for me to reach out, and my weekend was soon much fuller than it had been before.

One of the days over the weekend was spent with P and her son, I. We spent time chasing her three dogs around the yard and watching I splash around in the makeshift pool the rain gifted the property with. Soon enough, our grumbling bellies encouraged us to walk to the market, where we bought Irish potatoes, greens, and other veggies—hehe along with some soda for I. We had great conversation while cooking the meal together and, after eating, watched a fan favorite on DVD—Encanto. One of my favorite moments from the day was walking to the market, where P, a social butterfly and great connector of people, introduced me to a few of her friends as we past restaurants, food stands, and salons.

Another day was spent with H and her children. What a marvelous surprise it was when I arrived to her house to find that a couple of her other friends had asked H to come over too. Because there were so many people over, the occasion called for a big meal filled with rice, matoke, pasta, cabbage, groundnut sauce, and plantain chips for the kiddos later on. While H prepared the meal, a group of us went to a nearby field to play and talk. One of the girls who stays with H became my partner as we played a futbol (soccer) game against two of the boys. Though technically us girls ended up losing the game 9-10, there really was no loser because of the amount of fun we all had playing. We returned from the field to eat together before talking until the sun’s setting forced us to say our goodbyes.

Looking back, I am thankful for the happy moments the past two weeks brought and for the memories of these two days in particular. They filled the 4-day weekend with joy and reminded of the goodness of community that can come from reaching out.

At the end of this post, I want to remind you of something—God chooses you. Over and over and over again, God calls you beloved. As Ann Voskamp writes in her book Waymaker, “When you realize that you are fully known and still fully loved, nothing can scare you any longer.” May the knowledge of God’s care for you give you the security and confidence to step out, step back, or step into whatever it is that is weighing on your spirit.

With love,

Alyssa

High: On Friday, some of the preschool students, the preschool teachers, and I went to the Entebbe Zoo together. It was a BLAST! After leaving the James Place at 7:00 and making the 3-hour trip to Entebbe, Uganda, we spent the day oohing and ahhing at different animals, taking photos on the beach of Lake Victoria, and passing by the airport so that the kids could see airplanes close up. Seeing the delight in the kids’ eyes was priceless, making trip a special event to be a part of.

Low: As summer is turning into fall right now in Tennessee, I find that I am longing for yearly rhythms of the seasons. Here in Jinja, it is rainy season, so it rains most days in any given week. Even so, there are several hours of sunshine each day, and the weather is pretty consistently in the 80s. Breathing in the crisp, cool fall air, watching trees change colors, feeling the coziness of skin against sweater...these are things I look forward to with anticipation but realize I won’t experience while I’m here in a place on the Equator.

Buffalo: Did you know that putting items in direct sunlight helps de-odorize them? Unfortunately, Ellie the House Cat has found a new favorite restroom spot—my bed.. Thoroughly cleaning the sheets and mattress and then setting everything outside in the sun has been such a great help in getting the smell out. Fingers crossed Ellie will reconnect with her litter box, but in the meantime, I am very glad for the power of the sun’s cheerful rays.

Words of Wisdom: A line from the song Sweet Comfort by Sandra McCracken. I was introduced to this song at RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) in college, and for some reason, these words have been coursing through my mind over the past couple of weeks.

“Whatever my God ordains is right

His holy will abides

I will be still whatever He does

And follow where He guides”

one of the sweet preschool gals posing for a photo with a special ginormous friend

a happy photo by Lake Victoria after going to the zoo

cheesin’ with my bus ride mates at the lake

an American delicacy the kids and teachers had for lunch at the zoo 😉 seeing their reactions to the foreign food made me giggle

walking home with some of the women to see none other than some tasty greens in a field! hehe of course we had to pause + pick

letting the sun dry our clothes, leaving them warm and fresh☀️

my first day at the village

Hi from Uganda once more!

Hehe it has taken a few weeks for me to join the bandwagon, but I am writing this post while sipping on a Ugandan staple—chai! Essentially (as I understand it at least), chai is what locals refer to black tea. The tea leaves can be boiled in milk or water, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger may be added to the drink too. After letting the drink cool down for a few minutes and adding some sugar or honey, the drink is ready to be thoroughly enjoyed…hehe at least for as long as it remains in your cup! When I first arrived here in Uganda, I felt fairly indifferent to the beverage. A few months and cups of tea later, and here I am, quite enjoying it!

About two weekends ago, I joined my friends C, G, and G’s son to go to G’s village for the day! Though the technical reason for the trip was a burial—and in turn, I expected the day to be somber,—our time at the village was quite joyful and fun. It was a beautiful celebration of life! After piling into the car and making the journey along less-traveled roads, we finally arrived and were ushered to meet all sorts of people. Family, family friends, neighbors, and other people who lived in the area or were connected with the family showed up for the day—what must’ve been about 150-200 people in all. After spending about 3 hours chatting, playing with kids, and walking around the village, the ginormous pots of rice and cooked matoke (plantains) were ready to be served! We ate until our bellies were full—and then ate more. Once the meal was over, the afternoon was spent listening to music, dancing, and carrying on with conversation. Though we decided to head back to Jinja at around 5:30, G told us that the celebration of life would continue until 6:00 the next morning!

Another experience that stands out from the past few weeks is the time the HEAL Executive Team and I spent at a Compassion Fatigue workshop. A trio from Nashville who work as therapists and missionary mentors came to Uganda to guide us in a time of learning and reflecting last Wednesday. While sipping coffee under a large gazebo, we discussed burnout, brainstormed individualized self-care practices, and spent time in prayer. It was a gift to hear some of the stories and experiences of people who have been working in helping capacities in Uganda for substantial lengths of time. Here are a few quotes that resonated with me most from the day:

  • “It is not the load that breaks us down but the way we carry it.”
  • “Often what we see as the problem is only a symptom of the problem.”

One other moment that I wanted to share about is the afternoon a few ladies from HEAL, the Executive Director’s kids, and I spent enjoying jackfruit after work one day. Though I had never eaten jackfruit before coming to Uganda, I realized that I had tasted the flavor of it before—in none other that Juicy Fruit gum (hehe so even if you haven’t eaten it before either, consider yourself to be not completely in the dark if you’ve munched on this gum)! After work, I was planning to head back to the place I stay but saw everyone sitting at a picnic table and heard the kids cheering, excited for the afternoon treat! The ladies invited me over, and we enjoyed! For me, the most meaningful part of the time were our conversations about flying in airplanes, playing in the rain, and the different games and activities we played with neighbors as kids. It was a special time of sharing about where we come from and reminiscing on fond memories. 

Though I am digressing, I must say that I am SO grateful for the moments and experiences that have formed my life—both the highs and lows. To you reading this, know that the memories we share are the little gifts that help me persevere when I feel lonely, overwhelmed, or homesick here in Uganda. I hope that you too can find strength and hope as you look back at your journey to where you find yourself now. And that you can rest in the faithfulness of God who brought all the moments to pass. 

With love,

Alyssa

High: One afternoon at the James Place, there was a pile of suds in the grass that was leftover from washing toys earlier in the day. One of the kids and I played with the suds. Haha we even found ourselves having suddenly rapidly aged as we used the suds to put white beards and mustaches on one another. It was a sweet, pure memory! 

Low: In the likeness of so many people, I was frightened and filled with sorrow at the shootings that took place in Memphis this week. While thankful that my friends and family were safe, several people lost their lives. Oh how devastating that the special way they lived and colored the world is no longer here…and oh the anguish their families and friends must feel. Any life taken by another is a tragedy, and for this we must mourn.

Buffalo: Earlier this week, I walked to a store in town and smelled every single smellable bathroom-related item on the shelf. There were candles, soaps, and hair care products for me to delight in sniffing. Hehe once I had sniffed them all, I proceeded to head on to the market!

Words of Wisdom: “It’s okay to not be okay.” 

When I first heard this quote, I quite honestly thought it was a little bit cliché. However as I continue to ponder it, I realize just how wise it is. It can be hard to allow ourselves space to sit with negative emotions and not feel like we need to change them, to acknowledge difficult feelings without solving them. May both of us give ourselves space to not be okay—and to be okay with that.

walking through the village with these sweet peeps

the delicious food we ate at the village after hours of cooking

haha YES, even squishmallows enjoy chai😜

a few of the boys running to greet me at the end of the work day

merry mushrooms and making matoke

Hello there!

I hope you are doing well and that you can take a moment to breathe + just be today 🙂

Here in Jinja, the past few weeks have been a bit of a breathing opportunity, time for the women and children at HEAL to decompress and regroup. After a busy end to the term, the preschool teachers and students spent the past two weeks away from HEAL for holiday! The absence of the ten teachers and 96 students is deeply felt, leaving the James Place quieter. While it has been nice to move at a slower pace and take on a few less responsibilities, their return next week is much anticipated!

Hehe I realized earlier this week that I haven’t yet told you what a typical day at HEAL looks like for me, so now is the time! After arriving to the James Place (the name of the property HEAL operates from) at 8:00, I join the women for morning prayer and songs. This time, which lasts until about 8:30, is a wonderful opportunity to greet one another and center our hearts and minds before the day’s work begins. Once morning prayers are over, the time for work is split into three times slots: 8:30-10:15, 10:30-12:30, and 2:00-4:00. Between the two morning work times, we have a break in which we eat breakfast, a yummy and happy occasion! At 12:30, I help bathe the kiddos in childcare before putting them down for a nap. Then, the staff gathers at 1:00 to eat lunch and enjoy free time until 2:00. People enjoy napping, talking, calling friends and family, or playing volleyball (a very popular activity!). Haha as I am quite bad at volleyball but have been told that I should practice every day in order to get better, I find myself behind the net most days!

During the work times, I help out in HEAL’s various departments. I work in the social work office every day and spend time with the pottery, laundry, leather, preschool, and childcare departments on differing weekdays. I really enjoy this, as I have gotten to spend time with almost every person at HEAL and get a comprehensive view of the many different gears that spin so that the organization operates well. This schedule also keeps the days fresh.

Within the moments of the day, there are so many memories made. Here are a few moments that stand out from the past two weeks:

Last Friday, one of the social workers, R, and I walked to the Immigration Office in order to submit the documents needed for my Ugandan work permit. While we thought we had everything we needed in the 48-page file we brought with us, the lady in the office told us that we were missing two documents. Thankfully we had the documents on my phone, though we spent the next two hours trying to print them out so that they could be submitted with the rest of the file. After spending two and a half hours trying to get the WiFi and printer to cooperate, paper copies of the documents finally found themselves in our hands, and R and I left with the work permit! Haha as it was 2:30 at this point, we beelined back to the James Place at the requests of our growling tummies.

On Monday, the ladies and I arrived at work to find tiny mushrooms budding all over a portion of the grass. A few of the ladies placed tarps over the ground in order to help the mushrooms grow and stay protected. On Wednesday, the mushrooms were ready for picking! Grabbing whatever buckets, cups, and basins we could find, we spent a portion of the morning picking the mushrooms. The next day, the women gleefully shared about how they cooked the mushrooms the night before, some using them for a stew or sauce while others ate them with rice. What a random treat the blossoming mushrooms were!

On Tuesday, Cassidy and I decided that we wanted to cook together after work! We walked to a nearby market for fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and matoke. Matoke is a staple crop in parts of Uganda that looks like a banana and tastes like plantains or potatoes. After buying and enjoying some jackfruit at a pop-up stand, we walked back to the place I live at and began cooking! What a fun time it was—cutting veggies, boiling the matoke, adding seasoning and salt, and watching the foods turn a darker, richer color as they cooked. The smell of the food was surpassed only by its taste, and I was oh so thankful when, after eating, we realized that we had enough for leftovers later in the week!

I am thankful for God’s continual provision and presence and am blessed to find myself in Uganda. These past two weeks were a gift.

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: One morning, a few of the kids in childcare turned the picnic table into a pirate ship and the grass into the ocean. We had SO much fun swimming out to nearby islands to find flowers, a racecar driver, a pet dog, food, medicine for our bad coughs, and similar items before jumping back onto the ship and setting sail once more. It felt as though time stood still as we let our imaginations run wild.

Low: As nice as the past weeks have been overall, there have been some sorrowful moments as I grapple with friends returning to Nashville and the college semester beginning again. I miss university and the activities I was a part of there because of how good and meaningful they were. It was a gift to attend Belmont, and now, I am sad that I am no longer there. I rejoice in what once was even as I allow myself to feel the growing pains of no longer being in school.

Buffalo: Hehe as the bananas here in Uganda are deliciously yellow and sweet, I decided to buy all of the ingredients needed to make banana zucchini muffins! After mashing, measuring, and mixing, I poured the batter in a pan and opened the oven. To my surprise, there was already a loaf of banana bread in it—a loaf that one of the HEAL cooks made for me to eat over the weekend! I couldn’t help but laugh and laugh as I took the loaf out and put the muffins in. Haha as a result, there has been much eating and sharing of banana bread and muffins over the weekend!

Words of Wisdom: A quote by Frederick Buechner that resounds with hope:

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

 

one day, i was walking to work and looked up to see this merry monkey in a tree! if only i had had a banana with me..

some of the teensie mushrooms the HEAL ladies and i picked to later enjoy eating

here are some of the journals and other HEAL products at a shop in town! the staff taught me how to stitch the binding on these three journals 🙂

with my work permit, i can officially stay in Uganda for the year!

my friend P and i taking a break from work to craft this new pal out of polymer clay. please feel free to share any name suggestions if you have any!

the matoke that Cassidy and i made! it may look a bit mushy, but boy was it yummy!

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,

Alyssa

 

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

settling in and stepping out

Now about a month into my time here in Jinja, the juxtaposition between feeling settled in and like a little lost and perplexed puppy is very evident. Today, as I write this, I am feeling thankful for routines and rhythms…and for the moments without them that inspire us to be brave and to grow.

Over the past couple of weeks, my fellow intern pals and I have gotten into a pretty solid groove of:

  • Waking up between 6:30 and 7:00
  • Eating breakfast at around 7:30 and then heading out for the day
  • Working from 8:00-4:00
  • And then coming home and doing some combination of reading, watching movies, going into town for random errands, making + eating dinner, and going to bed

We do have a cat named Ellie, who keeps us on our toes a bit by randomly getting the zoomies, scaling walls, and nipping at our legs when we least expect it. Also, the two adorable kids who live on the property with us keep things interesting by spontaneously inviting us to swing with them, pick mangos on high branches in the sprawling mango trees outside, and kick soccer balls around the yard. There are two precious women—J and J—that are often at the property, along with the three boys one of them has, and they fill the place with motherly care and joy. Also, Mr. B, Mr. F, and Mr. P, who take turns serving as groundskeepers and guards throughout the week, are kindhearted men to talk to. It is interesting that “little” moments and things—a playful cat, energetic kids, talking with sweet people on the property—have actually been some of the biggest reasons why this place is feeling more like home. Perhaps the seemingly small, everyday moments really aren’t all that small.

While having some knowns amidst a lot of newness has been a wonderful salve in settling in well, this past week has been fraught with changes too. By Wednesday, all three of the summer interns left Jinja in order to finish college and continue working back in the States. Brette is authentic and brave, Isabella is joyful and friendly, and Tanna is compassionate and wise. Though there is sadness in seeing them go, the overwhelmingly strong emotion I feel is gratitude that we got to spend quality time together here in this beautiful country. I look forward to developing deeper relationships with the HEAL staff during this time of living on my own.

With the knowledge that I am going to have to be more independent in order to make the most of my time here, this morning, I did something brave—I rode on a boda (motorcycle) into town, walked around Main Street by myself, and then found a little café to read at for a few hours.

Haha sidenote: I remember seeing my grandpa, Pa, buy and ride a motorcycle several years ago and thinking, “Golly, how his doing that? As brave as he is, I don’t eeeever want to ride one of those myself…” Here I am, eating those words a bit, doing what I couldn’t have imagined those years ago..AND it’s actually quite nice! (though if at any point you happen to have a motorcycle, please don’t ask me to ride it with you)

God is ever kind, and God was kind to me today. As much as I would prefer to walk around town with another person, His presence was there in the many unique people I exchanged greetings and smiles with along the journey. In the café, He reminded me what a gift it is to be here and what a faithful friend He has always been. As nervous as I was to ride a boda for the first time, I felt an underlying sense of ease in knowing God holds me and my fears. AND the fellow I rode with showed me the correct boda-riding etiquette, drove at more of a “scenic” than “hurried” speed, and talked the whole time about his journey of becoming a boda driver. What a sweet, hospitable man to have this first experience with! Thank you, Lord, for Your goodness that keeps us grounded and invites us into community.

For those of you who tend to be a bit more timid and fearful like me, be encouraged that A) it is okay to be that way! and B) taking small, bold steps can lead to moments that are sweeter than sitting in the safety of not moving forward at all. And for those who tend to be more adventurous, hehe use that courage to experience how exciting this world is!

And for all: is there any way that you have experienced goodness this week? A moment in which you felt glad or at ease in a situation that could have been different?

Thank you once more for following along on this journey of settling in and stepping out. I look forward to updating you very soon Many blessings to you.

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: Hearing some of the preschool teachers’ stories while doing trust-based relational intervention training. Their stories are hard, and the women are resilient. This week, I was touched by their vulnerability and commitment to forging better futures for their children.

Low: Missing out on having quality conversations with people because I was too busy thinking about what they were thinking about me.

Buffalo: As work was closed on Tuesday, Tanna and I were just hanging out at home when we saw the kiddos having a picnic and decided to join. Part of the way through the meal, the kids said, “Guess what is coming this afternoon? A bouncy castle!” Sure enough, their mom coordinated with someone to set up an entire bouncy castle in the backyard…and then of course we had to add the hose to it so that the experience was escalated all the more. It was SO much fun—everyone, even Uncle Fred the groundskeeper, joined in on the action!

Words of Wisdom: Brette recommended that I read The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun. Wow, is it any interesting read on the development of the non-profit Pencils of Promise. In the book, this quote stood out to me:

“You have to find a mantra and live it fully. The one I’d adopt right now if I were you is something I found on the inside of a friend’s journal last year: ‘You may be safe, but I am free.’”

a happy afternoon spent at little shops in town so the girls could pick out some souvenirs before heading home

walking to work one morning with to the a-MOO-sing greetings of many, many friends

two of the boys maximizing on the chance to spray their momma as she slides in the bouncy castle

trying to manifest excitement over nervousness in my trusty helmet on the walk to the boda stage

a glorious introduction to bodas and HEAL

Wow! Has it really just been two weeks or an entire lifetime since I left America? There are so many things that I cannot believe—that I really made it here to Jinja, that the past fourteen days have been full of soaking up new experiences and cultural expression, that this will be the place I call home for the next year. What is abundantly clear and resoundingly steady is that God is present and so good all across the world.

After arriving in Entebbe, Uganda at about 1:00 a.m. on the first Saturday in July, I spent the night at a local hotel before traveling from Entebbe to Jinja. Haha unexpected note—driving in Uganda is quite different than in the U.S.! Not only do people drive on the left side of the road but there are many more motorcycles (known as boda bodas by locals) than cars on the streets, many bumps on roads, and no lines between lanes so that cars and bodas will move around one another as they please. Boy was I thankful to have a sweet driver, A, to help navigate the streets. Amidst the 4.5 hour commute, A and I talked about his family, gardening and buying food here in Uganda, the impact of COVID-19 on Ugandan economics and livelihood amongst other topics. Talking to him on the drive was a sweet introduction into life in Uganda, and seeing so much of the country as we made the journey helped bring the place to life. He is a nice man, and it was a good day!

Once I made it to Jinja, I began settling into the little house I will be staying at for my time in Uganda. When I arrived, there were four other interns who helped introduce me to important things to know about daily living here—purifying water, buying groceries in town, how to use the shower, etc. Though two of them left to return home earlier this week and the other two will be leaving next week, I am very thankful for their outpouring of kindness and knowledge. God has been kind in allowing our paths to cross during this time of settling in.

Bright and early on the first Monday I was in Jinja, I began work at the James Place (this is the name of the compound that HEAL Ministries operates at). What an extraordinary place it is! The organization, HEAL Ministries, seeks to show the compassion of God to vulnerable women and children in Jinja through family preservation, economic empowerment, and sustainable living. Practically, this looks like employing the women in departments such as childcare, preschool, pottery and leather working, laundry, and food service and providing programming for children. Hehe to honor your time as you read this post, I will keep you curious about the exact parameters of what I am doing and instead tell you a little story about one of the women I met:

About three days into my time working at the James Place, I met a lady named G. Soft-spoken and well-tempered, she is a soul filled with kindness and faith. Though she just met me and had only met the other interns a couple of weeks before, she invited us into her home for a weekend visit.

When we arrived at her house, we were first introduced to several of her precious children and to the plump pig she has been raising in order to help pay for her children’s education. It was sweet to see the people—and animals—that she and others in her village interact with on an everyday basis.

She then so kindly invited us into her home, a space in which all seven of us present for the afternoon together sat side by side and very close together so that everyone could be inside. Her radical hospitality in inviting us into all that she physically has was touching. In that moment, being in one another’s presence was a gift, a picture of the compassion and acceptance that God extends towards us. Though we did eventually have to part ways that afternoon, I am thankful for the lasting memory of our time together that day and for the many more weekends I have here to soak in time with the beautiful people of HEAL and Jinja.

From those first moments in Entebbe to this very moment that I write this post, the past two weeks have been filled with so many more new, unexpected, and special things than I could have envisioned. In the spaces you have found yourself in over the past two weeks, I hope that this has been true for you too—that life has given you little moments to be taken aback by and excited about.

Thank you for reading this post. I think of you with care and pray that you are well today, tomorrow, and the next.

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: Going on a spontaneous walk to the Nile River with a few staff members and their children one day after work. We happened to go right around sunset, so the sky mixed with the view of the river was absolutely breathtaking!

Low: I am finding it a little harder than expected to navigate language differences here. While some speak English to varying extents, a lot of people in Jinja speak Luganda, a local tribal language. Trying to build relationships with locals while not being able to converse very easily has reminded me of the power of simply being present with one another…but also just feels hard sometimes.

Buffalo: For Fourth of July (the first Monday I was here), the other interns and I celebrated by decking out! We put face paint on our faces and arms and tied ribbons in our hair. When we went to the James Place like this, the children and staff alike laughed and celebrated with us. Hehe I’m not sure I have ever dressed up this much in the U.S. for the Fourth but was so glad to have done so here.

Words of Wisdom: This is a quote by Frederick Buechner that I received in my email inbox earlier this week. I have been meditating on the contrast between the notions that “the more you get, the more you have” and “the more you give away in love, the more you are.”

“Avarice, greed, concupiscence, and so forth are all based on the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The remark of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) is based on the human truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are. It is not just for the sake of other people that Jesus tells us to give rather than get, but for our own sakes too.”

cheesin’ for the camera after making it to the Nile River (hehe the kids were on the side picking flowers and throwing rocks)

our happy Fourth of July outfits

one of the adorable lion masks the preschoolers made this week to celebrate learning letter L