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 →

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

 

Mom, me, and tasty chapati

Mom and I attempted to make chapati earlier this week 🙂

Chapati is a flatbread of sorts that is commonly eaten in Eastern African countries amongst other parts of the world, like Central America as well as India and other parts of Central and Southeast Asia. Alongside rice and beans, it is a food item that has come up time after time as a simple yet delicious staple in the Ugandan diet. Calling for just flour, water, and a dash of salt, chapati’s subtle yet tasty flavor makes it a splendid addition to one’s meal.

Given the delightful talk of chapati by girls from HEAL that I’ve talked to, when the opportunity arose for Mom and I to make some for a family going-away party this week, we just had to maximize on the opportunity! We added the ingredients together in a big bowl, kneaded the dough, let it rest for a time, and the rolled pieces of dough into thin circular sheets. After this, the dough was ready to be put in the frying pan to cook.

Hehe at least for Mom and I, this was the step that brought about a few…challenges. While the dough was very easy to flip, Mom and I realized we weren’t exactly sure what to look for to know the dough was ready to be flipped. In turn, our first few pieces of chapati were a bit underdone followed by a couple of pieces that were a bit…smokier…than those in the recipe’s example photos. With flour all over the counters, a bit of a scorched metal pan, and a pile of assortedly-cooked chapati, we finished! Though we took things in stride, the experience remained lighthearted the whole way through, and the family enjoyed sampling the food at the party, Mom and I definitely did not imagine that making the flatbread would be such an adventure.

My mom and I could not help but tease that by this time next year, I may look back on this first chapati experience and laugh, having been taught by locals in Uganda the proper way to knead, roll, and fry to chapati perfection. Hehe if that is the case, I look forward to it with joy! Right now though, without skills or experience, making the chapati threw us for a loop. It was a trickster of a time.

In reflection, I cannot help but think about how this reflects my transition to Uganda as a whole. There are so many things I do not know and questions I do not even know I should ask. There are countless ways in which, over the next week and months to come, I will be asked to let go of my need for control in order to be flexible and adaptable. I will be dependent on others and on God in a way that is nerve-wracking yet creates extraordinary opportunities for humility, experiencing the graciousness that is woven into the fabric of vulnerability, and forming connections with others. In the strangeness and mystery of it all, somehow I may be able to support and care for others in spite of (perhaps within) this frail space of unknowingness.

Now, as I write this, I am on a plane heading to Uganda and rejoice in what is to come! May this year be unique and precious and hard and good. May both the underdone and overbaked moments be welcomed and the perseverance beyond them fill us with hope. I hope that this can be true for you too, in all that you are walking through during this summertime.

What a joy, what a change! Uganda and the people of Jinja, I am blessed to spend time with you.

With love,

Alyssa

 

High: The outpouring of kindness and support from loved ones on this first day of travel. I am weepy and feel so blessed.

Low: Seeing Mom, Dad, Christian, and Logan walking away from the TSA security checkpoint after we gave final hugs and said goodbye. Goodbyes are hard. Perhaps they help us remember how dear the person we’re saying goodbye to is.

Buffalo (random): As I was looking for insect repellant at Walmart, I noticed that a little bird friend had flown inside the store and was fluttering up and down the aisles. It was a happy moment!

Words: This is a veryy long one but one that resonated deeply with me. Brought to us by Rachel Held Evans:

“It seems that in the kingdom of Heaven, the cosmic lottery works in reverse; in the kingdom of Heaven, all of our notions of the lucky and the unlucky, the blessed and the cursed, the haves and the have-nots, are turned upside down. In the kingdom of Heaven, the last will be first and the first will be last. In India, I realized that while the poor and oppressed certainly deserve my compassion and help, they do not need my pity. Widows and orphans and lepers and untouchables enjoy special access to the Gospel that I do not have. They benefit immediately from the Good News that freedom is found not in retribution but in forgiveness, that real power belongs not to the strong but to the merciful, that joy comes not from wealth but from generosity. The rest of us have to get used to the idea that we cannot purchase love or fight for peace or find happiness in high positions. Those of us who have never suffered are at a disadvantage because Jesus invites His followers to fellowship in His suffering. In fact, the first thing Jesus did in His Sermon on the Mount was to mess with our assumptions about the cosmic lottery. In Luke’s account, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:20-21; 24-25) It seems that the Kingdom of God is made up of the least of these. To be present among them is to encounter what the Celtic saints called “thin spaces,” places or moments in time in which the veil separating heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material, becomes almost transparent. I’d like to think that I’m a part of this kingdom, even though my stuff and my comforts sometimes thicken the veil. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – these are God things, and they are available to all, regardless of status or standing. Everything else is just extra, and extra can be a distraction. Extra lulls us into the complacency and tricks us into believing that we need more than we need. Extra makes it harder to distinguish between God things and just things.”

Mom valiantly flipping chapati in the frying pan

 

freshly cut hair just in time for the trip!

a sweet family photo just before parting ways

a new summertime groove in preparation to move

Hello there!

Thank you for joining me in this little virtual space as I embark on such a unique experience. I am so excited for the world to feel a little cozier as loved ones at home meet loved ones in Jinja through this online platform.

As a self-identified people-pleaser, I want these blogs to be exactly what YOU want them to be. The only trouble is that with an assortment of people from a variety of space reading the posts, there is not a legitimate way to pinpoint what this ideal post may be. Because of this, I am going to frame these as writing to a friend, perhaps the friend we have in Jesus. May that be enough. And may, in some strange way, these musings speak to you in your particular personhood and context too.
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Growing up the summer months had a sort of timeless quality to them. Sleeping in a bit more, playing for hours on end with my brothers outside, coming in for lunch or popsicles (or maybe even an outfit change so that we could enjoy the sprinkler), and then dinner and a bath before a movie and bedtime. Even as I transitioned into my teenage years, the lack of a stringent school or college schedule during the summer provided a level of freedom and room for spontaneity that was refreshing and fun.

This year, the weeks following my last day of college courses have brought a new posture towards summertime—an almost hyperawareness of the passage of time and what the future may bring. In early May, the long-anticipated day of graduation arrived, and I have spent the following weeks reading, baking, volunteering, babysitting, and visiting a couple of friends. The days remaining until my move to Uganda are now swiftly dwindling, and the once more abstract dream of this transition is now met with the tangible reality of packing lists, vaccinations, and a visa application. Here we are—a mere two weeks from traveling—and I am bubbling with a whole spectrum of emotions that come with making a longer-term move, with going on this new adventure.

For whatever reason, the first thing that comes to mind for me as I ponder this notion of “going on a new adventure” is the little boy (aka wilderness explorer) from Up, Russell. With a bunch of badges, a pack strapped on his back, and a hopeful outlook of what’s to come, Russell presses towards whatever the future may bring.

Hehe in my better moments, I may resemble Russell’s approachable spirit, hope for the future, and endearing physique. In full transparency, in other moments, I feel the weight of loss, of starting to say goodbye. Cycles of feeling exceeding joy and gratitude for the opportunity to be among God’s precious people in a new cultural context to being hit with a wave of tears over the difficult inevitability of change have been my rhythm over the past few weeks.

In consideration of Russell’s words and deeds in Up even throughout difficult moments within my own anticipatory and emotional space, I am filled with remembrance of a few key things. Russell reminds me that:

— I do have a level of control over my reactions.
— I have a sweet collection of stories, relationships, and memories that I am carrying into the trip.
— There truly is so much goodness and hope wrapped up the change that is going to Uganda.

Like for Russell and the rest of the Up characters, there will be inevitable highs and lows in the coming months. At the end of the day, I choose to believe that it will be meaningful and good. The people of Jinja are each special and unique, and I am blessed that our stories are going to intertwine.

God bless you as you walk along the path you find yourself on today. May we both learn to make peace with change...and perhaps watch Up sometime soon if the opportunity arises.

With love,

Alyssa
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*Note: Because my posts themselves may be a bit introspective or story-like, I think I will have a little section at the end in which I post a few memories from the time since the last post.

High: Soaking in quality time together by going on walks to Sonic with my brother Logan and evening neighborhood walks with Dad (and the birds as happy company!)

Low: Getting an email stating that my visa application was deferred (update: it has since been approved!)

Buffalo (what the cool kids say instead of “random moment” hehe): I went to volunteer at the nursing home this week, and a local church came to put on a little service for the residents. Usually, most of the residents are fairly mellow and quiet, and that was true of today—until someone suggested we sing “Victory in Jesus.” Voices that I have never heard before arose in glorious chorus to proclaim, “He loved me ‘ere I knew Him and all my love is due Him…” It was an unexpected, beautiful moment, one in which an array of people found commonality in singing a song reminiscent of their younger years.

Words of Wisdom: From a poignant work, The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, that I recently finished reading:

““And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality, more than “going to heaven when I die, to shout salvation as I fly.” It is also an immanent reality—a powerful liberating presence among the poor right now in their midst, “building them up where they are torn down and propping them up on every leaning side.” The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

maximizing on time with neighborhood birds, trees, and streets these last few weeks at home

happy memories made traveling across the sea with Lora and Elizabeth

spending quality time in Wisconsin with Megan and Elizabeth (hehe and with Jes, Alex, Murphy, and Dewey toooo!)

snagging a family photo after graduation 🙂