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 →

learning, lacrosse, and how loved you are

Hello again!

Thanks for following along with this new blog post! Just as a little cheesiness to perhaps bring a glimmer to your eye, here are a couple of Valentine’s Day jokes:

What do you call a very small Valentine? A ValenTINY!

Do you think skunks celebrate Valentine’s Day? Sure, they are very SCENT-imental.

Hehe sorry folks, those are all the jokes for today.. As far as updates from Jinja go—these past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind! Here in Uganda, schools follow a year-round calendar with the start of the new academic year taking place in February. This meant that last Monday, the kids that attend preschool at the James Place came for the start of the new term. What an absolute joy it was to walk into the James Place gates on Monday morning to dozens of children in matching blue-and-white checkered shirts, blue shorts, and tall socks talking, laughing, and playing! While the older ones (4-6 years old) were largely excited to see their friends and settled back into the routine at preschool fairly easily, the preschoolers in the youngest age group (3 years old) had a bit more trouble. Some missed their moms, and others felt slightly disenchanted with the idea of sitting in their seats. Hehe they are only kids—and little ones at that—so all of this was expected and even welcomed. We are thankful for each of them, want them to express their feelings, and know that school takes adjusting to! Even still, a week of continual care and attention given made for a bit of a tiresome week, and I think it’s safe to say that every adult at the James Place slept very well Friday night.

Since coming back to Uganda last month, my schedule has looked a little bit different, and I am spending more time with the preschoolers. I work in the preschool department from 8:30 until 1:00 and then spend the afternoons in the other departments—childcare, social work, or leather and pottery. One of my favorite parts of working with the preschoolers is the number of songs used to teach! There are songs to welcome everyone to class, for days of the week/months of the year, to teach kids how to get ready for the day, for numbers, letters, and sounds, and there is even a prayer song we sing before we eat breakfast, snacks, and lunch together. It is fun to join our voices together in song and to even dance along! I really enjoy seeing how engaged and excited the students are as they sing. Regardless of what each student and teacher is carrying when they come into the classroom, the peacefulness and cheerfulness of the melodies sung together bring a lightness, a sense that we are all together and will all be okay.

Last weekend, I did something out of my comfort zone—I joined Anna for an all-day lacrosse clinic in a nearby village! Hehe falling a bit more on the unathletic side, I was a bit apprehensive about what I’d gotten myself into when, as soon as the clinic began, everyone was asked to start running around the field. From there, we began doing lunges, hopping down the field, and working out our legs with deep squats. The day ended up being a blast as we transitioned from workout reps to learning and practicing lacrosse. There were about 110 kids that joined for the clinic, and several were very talented at lacrosse. Their skills were remarkable, and their passion for the sport was undeniable! About 10 of the kids came with Anna and I from Jinja town. As none of us had played lacrosse before, we spent time with a very kind-hearted, patient coach as he taught us how to throw and receive balls using the lacrosse sticks. When we got tired, we took breaks, playing cards and chatting about all sorts of things. After about 5 hours of playing, everyone left the field and headed to a nearby shady spot with tables and benches for lunch. The kids and coaches alike enjoyed plates heaping with rice and a special treat—chicken! After eating, the kids who were well-versed in lacrosse played an actual lacrosse game, with the rest of us chatting and cheering from the sidelines. After a group photo and some words of encouragement from the coaches, we finally ended the day at around sunset. What a special day this was!

One other thing I wanted to mention is an experience I had on Thursday. At the beginning of the month, I began having a runny nose, indicative of a fairly harmless cold. Besides keeping a stash of tissues with me, I didn’t think too much of it. Then, on Thursday, my stomach began aching, and I had a bout of chills. I came home that evening, bundled up in cozy clothes and blankets, and laid on the sofa in a little cocoon. As it was only 7:00pm and all I wanted to do was stare into space and feel better, I felt a bit helpless. While praying during this time, I sensed God saying, “I love you exactly as you are right now.”

How wild it is—that God would love me when I am not doing anything helpful, productive, or meaningful, look and feel sickly, and have little to no control over whether my body gets better or descends into illness all the more. Why would God love me in that moment? I am not completely sure. All I know is that God’s grace is unimaginably expansive and that God’s compassion towards me is a small picture of this grace flowing down. I hope you know that God love you too, so fiercely and wildly its uncontainable. God’s love is so big that there is nothing you can do to add to it and nothing you can do to take away from it. It just is—and it is for you.

Thanks again for sharing in these moments with me. Take care until next time! And between now and then, may God give you a small glimpse of His love. 

With love,


High: Oh goodness, if only I could’ve captured this moment in a little tiny box and could send little sprinkles of it to you instead of writing to you about it.. On Tuesday, some of the preschoolers and I were letting our imaginations soar together! We found what first appeared to be a small yellow pipe cleaner…but it actually was our new friend Sunny the Worm! The three boys and I took Sunny to the market and fed him apples. We then drove him around on our supercars before baking him a delicious cake. Unfortunately, Sunny got a bit dirty playing on the ground, so we then had to give him a bath. We ended the recess period taking turns holding him and trying to get him all dressed and ready for the day! It was sweet to witness the gentleness and carefulness of three boys who are usually a bit more energetic and to so thoroughly enjoy being creative. In this moment, time stood still, and I became 5-years-old once again!

Low: With so many kids heading back to school, the number of children who aren’t going to school is more noticeable. School fees are a burden many parents can’t bear the weight of, making school more of a dream than a reality for many. Seeing friends struggle to make ends meet so that their kids can go to school…and seeing and hearing from so many other defeated parents and children that can’t go this term has been weighing heavily on me this week.

Buffalo: Yesterday, I visited a friend C and her two sons after church. We had a happy time eating rice and beans, trying to beat Level 144 of Candy Crush, and talking about her family and dreams. When I first walked in her home, I was taken aback by five absolutely precious kittens! Each kitten couldn’t have weighed more than 1 pound and had its own coloring and tiny meow. C’s boys and I spent lots time petting and playing with the kittens…and then petting them some more when they got tired and fell asleep. If you need a little pick-me-up and have access to one, PLEASE pet a kitten sometime soon. If not, that’s completely okay—perhaps seeing a photo of a kitten can bring a teensie dash of glee that will suffice 😉

Words of Wisdom: Haha this is a French proverb that was cited in War and Peace. It is cited and commented on in Manning’s Ruthless Trust as follows. I think it eloquently and succinctly get at the empathy that gives way to forgiveness.

“‘We should enter everyone’s situation. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.’—to understand all is to forgive all. In his sovereign wisdom, God alone understands the human heart.”

ruuuuunning around the field for fun at the end of the day of lacrosse!

hehe my friends M, I, B, F, + me decked out in fan gear while watching the afternoon lacrosse game!

Z hard at work making a delicious cake to go with the fruit he picked right before

sweet I posing with his sweet ice cream one afternoon last week

one of the adorable kittens at C’s house

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