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


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,



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

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