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 →

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 🙂