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,


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

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