Reflections on our life and lessons in uganda
Lessons in the waiting.
Alright everyone. This is a blog I wrote back in February as we were waiting and begging for a court date. We did finally get the court order for JJ’s adoption, but as a result of corona, we are back to waiting. However, in a time when many, if not all of us, are stuck in waiting and fear I felt this was the right time to finally put these words and feelings out there. It's been over a year since I blogged, and I have nothing much I can say about that except what's written below.
It’s been impossible for me to blog until now. This last year has been probably the most stressful of my life. It’s not that we’ve really suffered or struggled, but every time I sat down to write I found that I had no words.
In part, I think it was too hard to put down on paper what was in my heart. Fear reigned in my life for the last year. I trusted that God would do what was good, but still fear trickled in. I think I was afraid that if I put my fears into words, I would somehow cause them to become more real.
Unless you are an adoptive/foster parent, I don’t think I can explain the sort of fear that haunts your every move knowing that at any moment someone could come and take your child away. JJ is our son as sure as anything I know, but with one word a judge could rule that we would never see him again. I pray that anyone who has never known that fear would never have to. It colored every memory with JJ. I’d be laughing and cuddling with my sweet boy on the couch, when suddenly I was cold with fear that today would be the day they came knocking. I dreamed of having him ripped from my arms in a court room as I screamed, kicked, and fought. Every cancelled court date was another drop further into the land of fear. As someone who tends to be high anxiety anyway, this was a feeling of drowning in fear.
I wrestled often with how to trust the Lord in the midst of fear that was never far away. Could I say I trusted God if fear still had its claws sunk into my heart? In the end I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I tried. I prayed often ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’. I worshipped through tears of terror each time the judge was not present. I pushed through on days where just feeding JJ breakfast felt like too monumental a task.
The fear of JJ being taken away was compounded by the fact that I knew it could happen and I would have no power to stop it. In the USA, I knew that if someone tried to take away JJ I would be able to go to court, plead my case, and hopefully get justice. But when the justice system around is full of corruption and bribery, you become unable to trust that justice will be done (by man). These months and months of waiting forced me to acknowledge that the only true justice comes from God. He is the judge with whom I can plead my case.
I struggled with prayer in these times. After the first court date fell through, and the next 5 soon after, I didn’t know how to make my requests known to God. I didn’t doubt that God was faithful and good, but I began to doubt that I was praying well. I have combed and dug through the Psalms trying to understand what it is to pray well, as David did. In the end I realized it was almost never about asking God to do things, but rather telling Him what was happening and how I felt about it. David rarely asks God for things in the Psalms, and when he does it is after he has poured out his heart to God. My prayers shifted from ‘Let the judge say yes’ and ‘let him just show up’ to raging at the Lord about the injustice surrounding us. I found that I wasn’t only angry and distressed for us, but for every person stuck waiting in this endless cycle of corruption and delays. We weren’t the only ones being denied justice by those with power. I found my heart being softened to those around me.
I had lived almost 2 years in a position of vulnerability and lack of power. Many of my friends have lived every day of their life in that position. I began to understand (at least in some measure) why the heart of God rages against injustice and taking advantage of the vulnerable. More than ever I have come to understand why it is an imperative of Scripture to care for the poor, the weak, the underprivileged, the abused, and the vulnerable. As our court dates were pushed and delayed and ignored, I began to feel a heart cry to God to save us and bring justice to be done. How much more so do those whose families have been murdered or attacked? Those who have lost everything to thieves? Those who have been forced from their homes due to greed? Some of those people waited beside us in the court every time, also praying for justice to come to pass. I’m so thankful that in this, the end result is that JJ will be with us. I can’t imagine being one of the ones who is forever waiting for justice that is not done on this earth.
If anything, this time of waiting has given me a clearer picture of my duty as a believer in Jesus. As someone who has power and privilege, education and influence, as someone who has been taught that I can do anything I set my mind to, it is my solemn responsibility to stand up for those who cannot. Two years of powerlessness in one area of my life was enough to drive me into a life filled with fear; I cannot begin to imagine how those whose whole lives have been stripped of dignity and safety must feel every day.
If we as believers in Jesus cannot share His heart to care for the downtrodden, those taken advantage of, those society rejects, can we even say we understand His mission? God’s heart cares for the orphan, the widow, the sojourner, the refugee, the abuse victim, the fearful, the slave… If waiting has taught me anything, it is that I have only begun to understand the depths of sorrow brought on by injustice and fear. It showed me that we have a God who walks with us in those times when it seems dark. We have a God who stands with us in the waiting. We have a God who sits with the brokenhearted and weeps with them. If we as followers of Jesus aren’t also doing those things, I think we have missed an essential part of the calling of God in Christ.
Long time no blog...
I haven’t written in a while. After our little guy came around I gave myself 6 months as a time to “adjust” before trying to get back into the blog. And now it has been nearly a year. I have all sorts of great excuses for why I haven’t done it yet, but the reality is I didn’t have anything to say.
Motherhood was thrust upon me with next to no warning. Having shared parts of the story of JJ’s birth, you can probably imagine the kind of emotional roller coaster that was. In one day I went from ‘we are going to for a routine antenatal checkup’ to ‘oh there’s no heartbeat’ to ‘oh yea there is, also it’s a boy’ to ‘oh this is happening today’ to driving home in the rain at 11:00 pm with a tiny person in my arms that I was now fully responsible for. I thought those kinds of things would make it impossible for me not to start blogging again. I thought that after 6 months I’d have too many stories of cute baby and my exceptional mothering to be able to get them all down. (Ok maybe not exactly that, but I thought at least I’d have a lot of cute baby stories). And I did; I do. So I was baffled when every time I sat down to write it was like staring into a giant grey void.
It took me longer than 6 months to process becoming a surprise, instantaneous mother. (Who’d have guessed??) Part of the problem was that I wasn’t just adjusting to becoming a mother. I was adjusting to my entire view of my life rocking and rolling until it faced the other way. Jon and I didn’t ever think we would have children, and that was a great plan by me. Then suddenly, God put this tiny, unborn person on my heart in a way that felt like my chest would crack open if he wasn’t part of our family. Do you have any idea how confusing that is??? Extremely, is the answer. I wasn’t just adding “mom” to my list of identifiers in my head. Suddenly every other identifier I had for who Kristin Coupal is was in flux. Kristin Coupal was a nurse, who worked a lot, and wanted to be busy with work, and ran a clinic, and wrote contracts, and oversaw accounting, and I was good at it. Then this little man came into my life and everything else took a backseat to Jon and JJ.
Who was I if I wasn’t the person who did it all? What was I doing if I wasn’t doing it all? In the last 10 months I have gone round and round with the Lord on what exactly it is I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve had to grieve the loss of pieces of my identity in order to celebrate new and different pieces of it. I’ve had to learn to let go. I’ve had to accept that I had proud, incorrect views of what is important it the Kingdom of God.
I have laughed so hard that I fell over because this child is so hilarious. I’ve cried because he wouldn’t stop crying. We’ve yelled in each other’s faces. We’ve been covered in poop. We’ve sat up all night together as he cried because he couldn’t get enough air when he had a cold. I have experience joy to new levels since JJ became our son. I miss him even when I just go to work at a coffee shop for an hour without him. I’ve experienced the lows of depression in a new way. I’ve learned to accept that I can’t do it all. I’ve learned I can do more than I ever thought. I’ve felt like JJ will never connect with me like a “real mom” and I’ve felt him cling tightly to me after a nightmare.
The last 10 months have involved processing so many different things that trying to sit down and put it on paper seemed impossible. I couldn’t write it down, I couldn’t talk it out, Icouldn’t even pray through it. I felt like I was floating along a river of changes and growth. Not all of it was bad. Not all of it was great. But it was overwhelming.
In recent weeks, I have had time to really sit and think through what has changed in and around me. I think the biggest change has been a humbling in my heart. I’m not as important as I like to think I am. I went from thinking proudly that I was so needed for what God was doing in Terebinth Ministries, to understanding the chastening truth that to JJ I am it. I am his mother. I went from thinking I could do it all to wondering how I can even come close to being enough. And the lovely thing is that I can’t. That’s why God promised strength and power to us, because I don’t have any of my own, not really.
I wrestled with God over giving up parts of the ministry I enjoyed doing for the sake of being with JJ. I didn’t want to step back from anything. I felt the familiar struggle that many missionary moms I know feel: what’s my ministry if I’m home with the kids? Now, I KNEW the answer was that JJ became my ministry. Jon was my ministry, and helping Jon be able to still pour into the pastors was my ministry. But KNOWING the right answer and believing the right answer are often not the same. I was studying the Pauline epistles when the Lord gave me the understanding I needed.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, “that you aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”
1 Timothy 2:2-3, “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”
Well consider me blown away. I was so confused by Paul’s encouragement here. He seemed to be saying that by leading quiet and peaceable lives, we could bring people to the understanding of who Jesus is. But that couldn’t be right. Because American culture trains us in what I’ll call the ‘hero mentality’. Most Americans I know (myself included) have been raised on a steady diet of stories, novels, movies, shows, and commercials that tell us two things: 1- you are the hero of the story and 2- heroes must do big things! We love a David and Goliath, underdog story because we all are conditioned to think we ARE the David triumphing in that situation. We teach Bible stories in Sunday School and end with “so God can use you to do big things just like (insert Bible ‘hero’ here). Which is so true and so great. But somehow we leave out where quiet, every day faithfulness is as pleasing to the Lord as the Harvest Crusade.
The Lord poured peace on my heart as He showed me that faithfully raising our children to know the Lord is just as pleasing to Him as any big ministry we can commit. It can be just as EFFECTIVE as our big ministries. Scripture tells us that we are part of a body, DIFFERENT parts of a body. The Billy Grahams are called to what we see as ‘big’ things, and we are tempted to think we all have to be called to big things. But more often than not, we are called to the big ministry of being a faithful spouse, parent, neighbor, employee, or whatever. I realized I had raised up doing things for the Lord over being in relationship WITH Him. Whatever call God has put on our lives, our best ministry is to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So I may not be super-mom, and I haven’t finished processing everything that means, but I know that instead of trying to make myself indispensable to God’s Kingdom, my new goal is to live a quiet, peaceable life so that others can see the goodness of God.
Adoption: step one
Hello. Apwoyo. And greetings from Gulu where we are enjoying the early rainy season. As promised I wanted to share with everyone as we start the adoption process for this tiny baby (who is waiting to be born any day now)!
As with any adoption story there is much bitter and sweet all mixed up together. Adoption is always that mix because in order for the beauty of adoption to occur, tragedy must also occur. But walking through this with Jon has given both of us a deeper appreciation for the original adoptive Father. Just like in our story with baby, the story of God’s adoption of us involves tragedy and wonder. The tragedy of a world fallen to sin, and people in rebellion. The tragedy that is the rebellion in my own heart. But the wonder of a Father who still looks at me and says, “I want that one to be my child”. The story of God’s adoption is one that has become even more near and dear to my heart as He has prepared Jon and I to say yes to a little one we haven’t even seen yet. But do be warned, this is not an easy story. I will tell what I can but not all of it is mine to tell and we wish to honor everyone involved, especially precious V (we will be referring to the momma by the first letter of her name only).
We first met V last year at a pastor’s conference in Pajule where Jon was asked to teach. She is a young teenage girl, maybe 16 or 17. She wandered in, accepted food from the ladies, and sat by herself. Our friend who pastors Calvary Chapel Pajule, JB, explained that she lives on the street or in abandoned huts by herself, doesn’t speak, and won’t let anyone touch her. They are not sure what mental handicap may be there, but she functions on the level of a young child. The folks at Calvary Pajule and many other places in Pajule make sure she has food and clothes. They try to care for her as best they can since she cannot care for herself. V has the sweetest disposition you could want, despite the obvious signs of past trauma. She is never violent, never nasty, but does often run away from interacting with anyone. She has begun to trust pastor JB and even let him take a photo with her one day.
A few months ago, we learned that V had been raped and was 6 or 7 months pregnant. We reached out to JB to see what we could do (provide food, etc). Jon and I both felt our hearts completely burdened for V and her baby. After talking for a while we agreed that we felt God leading us to at least reach out and offer to help care for the baby when it came. The hope was for a local family to care for V’s baby, but that can be next to impossible in family’s with an average of 6 biological children and several that are usually cared for from other relatives. Many families find themselves trying to feed, clothe, school, and care for upwards of 10 kids! Most families struggle seriously just to be able to send their kids to school. We told JB to let us know, even if it was to help temporarily when baby was born to find placement. And we let it be in the Lord’s hands. We never forgot V but we prayed and trusted the Lord to find a good home for V’s baby.
A few weeks (yes, WEEKS) ago I was talking to our friend Stacy who had recently moved to Pajule from Washington. (She and her husband Nic live and work with JB and his family to support his ministry.) I asked in passing what was going to happen to V’s baby and she told me that because no one was able or willing to take care of the baby, it would be sent to an orphanage in Kampala. The primary orphanage that is accepting children in Uganda right now does not allow adoption, even from local people. Children who grow up in these orphanages get reminded everyday that no one cares about them. The thought of V’s baby never having a family broke my heart. I told Jon about it and didn’t really bring it up again for 2 days. Then we began to talk and pray together and were in agreement that if possible, we were going to pursue seeing about adopting the baby. The big problem was that V is quite pregnant, and no one is sure of her due date except ‘soon’.
We reached out to JB to see if the local officials would meet with us about adopting. (Because V has no family and cannot make decisions for herself, it falls to the local leaders to make the decisions they feel are best for her.) Often, and for good reason, adoption by white couples can be looked down upon here in Uganda. There was a time when children with families would be adopted in order to meet the demand of couples wanting to adopt. So Jon and I feared that if the local officials weren’t agreeable to us, that could be the end of the road. So we prayed. A few days later we found out that not only did the local officials agree, they seemed downright happy to meet with us!
We went to Pajule and met with the LC1 (village leader) and LC 3 (sub-county chairman). Basically that means the guy who is responsible for the village where V stays, and the guy who is like a mayor for Pajule. They were very happy to know someone wanted to love V’s baby, and they care very much about V as well. We prayed together for her, and talked about future plans. The LC3 said that the probation officer of Pader (the district where Pajule is located) knew about us and we would need to meet with him. The probation officer is responsible for women and children in their district who are vulnerable, and is really the one who has the say about if an adoption is going to happen. We agreed and asked for a meeting the next week if at all possible.
A week later we were in Pajule picking up everyone to go have a meeting with the probation officer of Pader. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect in this meeting, but it was so nice to see the probation officer have a genuine and deep concern for V AND her baby. We got the process rolling to get a foster-care order as soon as baby is born (since no one else is available to care for baby). And now we wait, for baby to be born. We are praying desperately for a safe delivery for V and baby, and for continuing love and care for V. The community has rallied around her so much, and they love her a lot.
We are very excited at the idea of being the parents to this little one, but our hearts break for the evil that brought the situation about. We aren’t sure if V knows she’s pregnant, or has any understanding of the situation going on. She has shaken our hands (a huge step) and is being cared for by people who love her. Please pray for her and for a special ministry of Jesus to her heart in this time. We are so blessed that God has written this small adoption story into His grand adoption narrative and can’t wait to see what He has in store as we move forward in faith.
A thread through the Old Testament
As I write this blog post, I am just beginning to prepare my heart for studying Isaiah in depth. It is the book we will be teaching to the pastors in the Terebinth School of Discipleship in October. I’m reading through the first few chapters and praying through the beginning parts of the book, looking at historical context and trying to understand what is this book all about. I thought that I would share just a few of my thoughts…I’m telling you now, in case you’re not into that sort of thing so you can stop reading.
One of the things that I believe is so important when studying the Bible, especially with regard to the Old Testament history and prophesy books, is the realization that it is neither written about me or to me. Often I hear teachings where someone tries to pull out some fancy application in an attempt to blow peoples mind with their amazing teaching ability. Isn’t it enough just to understand what the Bible says about the people and time period that it’s actually talking about? I’ve realized that as I attempted to study the Bible before I moved to Uganda and had the burden of a true teaching ministry to people who would take what I taught and teach others, I used to study in such a way that I wanted to see what God had to say to me or about me. I never actually cracked open the pages to see what it had to say about God. I truly believe that there has been no greater act of inadvertent selfishness in my life than to take God’s story and make it about me. I hope to never fall into the trap again of teaching application like a motivational speaker in place of truth.
So that was my rabbit trail, here’s the reason I actually started typing today. There is a thread that goes throughout the whole Old Testament, and one that can’t be easily ignored (or at least shouldn’t though I think it commonly is). It shows up at the beginning of Isaiah, but here’s some background on it first.
In Genesis 2:16-17, God presents Adam with a choice. “You may eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The most interesting thing about this statement to me is that God never took away Adam’s access to disobedience. I used to wonder why God would create a “very good” place, and then put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there. Something that would cause death from what was otherwise perfect. I believe there is no other explanation for this tree than choice. If God had removed that tree, He would have removed the choice of man to love God or to love himself.
Throughout the rest of the book of Genesis, there seems to be this theme of choices. You can draw a timeline through the book and make note of the choices that the people make and the outcomes of those choices; here’s just a few small examples. Lot chose to walk by sight while Abraham was walking by faith. As a result of Lot’s actions the enemies of Israel known as the Moabites and Ammonites came about. Abraham chose to follow the word of his wife instead of God and Ishmael was born. All through out the book there are stories of man messing up the good thing God had made. It’s as though God meant something for good, but man is using it for evil.
Then you come to the story of Joseph. His brothers hate him, nearly kill him but decide to sell him to traders instead. As a result their whole family is saved from famine and the nation of Israel spends 400 years living and growing under protection in Egypt. The story of Joseph flips the script of Genesis. Before man used God’s good creation for evil, and now Joseph says, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”. This statement shows that in the midst of the evil choices of man, and there are a lot of them in this first book, God was sovereign and it’s His plan that gets worked out.
If we miss what Genesis teaches us about the choice that man has in regard to his relationship with God, we risk misunderstanding the entire Dueteronomistic history and the prophets who make their points based on the choices that man makes.
Moving forward to Deuteronomy 28, we see Israel presented with a choice, just the same as when Adam was given a choice by God. The choice is simple; if you obey me, I will bless you, if you disobey me, I will curse you. This sounds just the same as God’s word to Adam, if you eat of that tree you will die.
In fact the curses mentioned here in Deuteronomy 28 get very specific. Here’s verse 36, “The LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.” That promise is fulfilled during the time of Israel’s dispersion and Judah’s captivity. Here’s another more specific (but a little graphic) one in verse 53, “And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.” We see this basically verbatim fulfilled as the prophet Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 4:10, “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food during the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
Here’s an aside, Deuteronomy 28 is one of my favorite chapters of scripture, because it explains the rest of Old Testament history (minus a couple books) and it also shows the conditionality of the Mosaic Covenant; if you do this, I will do this…but if you do this, I will do this. In essence, this chapter is God giving man the choice of how they want their lives to go; He’s saying, look, you can be with me or against me and I am not choosing for you.
The choice of man is a sobering reality in the Bible because it places personal responsibility on us for our relationship with God. Not that we are able to do the work to be in a right relationship with God (that’s done by Jesus), but that the responsibility is mine to choose to love God (the tree of life) or to choose to love myself (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). No where is this more clear than in one of Moses final exhortations to the nation of Israel before he died, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20.
Here’s why studying Isaiah brought all this to mind. Is 1:19-20, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the god of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” This is very simply Deuteronomy 28 summarized. Man has a choice because of the sovereignty of God.
A few final thoughts, I recognize in writing this that I am approaching the slippery territory of the age old debate of Calvinism and Arminianism. My encouragement is that you don’t get bogged down in the arguments of men but stick with the truth of God’s word. Just as some of Corinthian believers claimed to be of Paul of Apollos, many Christians, even respected theologians, would rather cling to the name of John Calvin or Jacobus Arminius when the name of Jesus is the only name that saves.
Finally, you may notice that even in such a long debated discussion, I never used the words free-will. I’ve recently made the choice to stay away from this terminology not because of a pre-determined connotation in someones mind, or even because of not wanting to cause division. I made that choice to always remind myself that my will or my choice was anything but free. It was paid for by the blood of Jesus.
Adventures in the Ordinary
'A Life Overseas' is like an online missionary blog community. I find some of the blogs written there helpful, some interesting, some confusing, some so relatable, etc. Their blogs inspired this one. I have long found the experiences of missionaries to be fascinating. One of the reasons I developed a love for missions is because I read biographies of famous missionaries. I don't often write about life as missionary so much as what God has been showing me, because that is universally applicable. However, I think there is great value in sharing the reality of what missions looks like in our context (and what I have learned from it).
I think it is important to understand what younger-Kristin pictured a missionary life being before we move on. I always pictured huts, trees, spears, gunfire, fighting diseases with nothing but leaves, warfare, danger, excitement, thrilling heroics, and the like. (Picture a lady Indiana Jones and you will about have it.) Now I think it is a safe rule to assume that something we decide to do that is new is almost never as exciting as we think it will be, nor is it as easy. Missions is no different. We don't live in a jungle-hut alongside an undiscovered people fighting off pirates and disease; someone somewhere might, but not the Coupal's. Although this sounds like a child's dream, in some ways I still expected hints and flavors of this in our life when we first got on the plane to Uganda. And I suppose there has been adventure and danger at times... But the reality of our life is the adventure of constant adaptability.
People ask me a lot what I think the most important thing is for a missionary. First, and most important, is a deep love and understanding of Scripture. We would never expect a pastor to need someone to teach him in order to read the Bible, but for some reason we send out missionaries all the time who can't feed themselves from the Word of God (side rant). The second is adaptability. In the US I was a wife, an ICU nurse, and a kid's/youth ministry worker. Those were the things I would have told you about myself. How I saw myself was incredibly inflexible. Then I got on a plane to move to Africa.
Here are some of the things I have become since then: a housekeeper, student, cook, vet, nurse, Bible-teacher, secretary, accountant, exterminator, writer, marketing manager, administrator, pharmacist, translator, web-designer, tour guide, liaison, graphic-designer, counselor, taxi service, errand runner, plumber; expert and novice. Now perhaps several of these were true in America, but not the extent that I feel them here. Because even though I am capable of doing many of these things in the States, I often find myself feeling like a child in my new culture.
I remember the first time I drove anywhere on my own after getting my driver's license. I was driving myself to work at my first job. I felt like a newborn deer trying to learn to walk. I got places and did things, but everything felt shaky beneath my feet because it was all new. That is often how I feel as I take on each new role in my new context. I can go to the bank, but I feel nervous and hesitant because everything is different, and I probably have to re-write the letter to withdraw what I need. I can drive, but it still feels like my depth perception is off because I'm on a new side of the car and road. I can order medications but I have to look everything up like a new graduate from school because all the names and diseases are different here. I can teach a kid's Sunday School (I've been doing that since I was 13) but they never quite understand me because we need a translator. Even a basic greeting to someone feels unstable here, because I have to translate my words into a language that is based on hearing tones and using parts of my throat I never have before.
I recently learned to build a website and design a brochure. I have never really done this before. But the ministry needed these things done, and no one on the team we have knows how. So we asked for help, and we learned together. I think that is a key to missions, learning together. Because there isn't someone we can just call up, pop by, or message real fast to get things done. Life works differently in this context, and even the familiar help is 9 hours behind us on the clock. We have a golden window of a few hours when we are awake at the same time as our US counterparts. So we learn how to do things here and now. Often, we can ask our blessed local friends how and what to do. Often we can't.
So all of my hopes and dreams about missions as a child are far from accurate. But life certainly isn't lacking in adventure; it's just different adventures. It is the adventure of saying 'I am mentally disturbed' when you mean 'I have a headache' because you don't know the right words. It is the adventure of eating fried ants because you know it will offend your friends if you pass, because they made them for you, and because that was very sweet of them. It's the adventure of adapting. Some days we call 'routine' here but the truth is you never really have a routine. Because no two days ever truly look the same. And even the mundane is an adventure, because we are children in this context learning how to do life all over again. We are becoming more than we ever dreamed because the ministry needs skills we don't have.
The amazing thing is that even in the discomfort of learning new things, there is growth. Not just in skills I never had before, but in my faith. You should not become a missionary if you like to feel adequate, because you won't. None of us IS adequate but nothing teaches you that truth like cross-cultural living. If, however, you want to learn your desperate need for Christ in a deep and intimate way, missions might be for you. I never knew the meaning of 'pray without ceasing' until I couldn't accomplish anything without prayer. Even cooking now has me praying 'Lord, let that temperature on the oven be the right one. Let that chicken be done! Please please let us eat before the power goes out or we run out of propane for the oven!' This is has been the greatest adaption in my life over the last two years, learning my own inadequacy.
My first missions trip to Mexico left me feeling so capable, so valuable, so confident. Little did I know that those feelings were the result of strong team leaders and very (very very very very) gracious and patient missionaries on the field. It is easy to feel like we are getting into long term missions to save our host country, heck, even the world. The truth is, missions teaches you very fast that it is only by God's grace that you can do anything at all. It is impossible to feel superior to a place when I have to ask how to us the toilet, or where to buy rice. Instead you have to embrace being a bumbling toddler learning how to talk and do for the first time. But that learning gives the chance for child-like faith that I never could have experienced outside of missions. I come from a place that values independence and strength. But Jesus has called each of us to a life of dependence on Him, of humility and meekness. It took me not knowing how to make a phone call to truly learn what that looks like in my life.
As I write this I am sitting in a bank lobby waiting for someone to arrive because the paperwork that was going to be done 2 Thursdays ago still isn't done. We are coming up on hour 4 of waiting this week because the bank didn't do their paperwork properly. It isn't a grand adventure of swashbuckling and drama. It's a "normal" day here in Gulu, Uganda. But it is a lesson is adaptability and relying on the Lord for my daily needs. And in the end, I think that is the greatest adventure of all.
Blessed or Disobedient Feet
Hey everyone. I apologize once again for being untimely in the blogging. It seems that the last month was the blink of an eye. I have had a hard time deciding what to blog on. With how fast everything has moved, I find it hard to sit down and process long enough to develop a thought that could become a blog post. Jon has been going to church an hour early on Sundays, which gives me time to study. I have been reading through Romans, and this Sunday God really put something on my heart as I read.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel,” Exodus 19:5-6. This is God’s call to Israel, just before giving the 10 commandments. He is telling Moses to declare to Israel what they are going to be as a nation. A kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Priests were to stand in the gap for sinful people so they could have relationship with God. God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of priests, of people who stand in the gap for others and show them God. A holy nation would be an example of living rightly before God to show the other nations around them what life lived according to the Word of God was. You could say that Israel was to be a nation of missionaries, fulfilling God’s call to make His name known.
Fast forward to Romans 9. This chapter is Paul telling the Jewish believers that God has a right to save whoever He wants, including *gasp* gentiles! Then in Romans 10 Paul explains how it is that these lawless gentiles could possibly be saved. He quotes from Deuteronomy to show that even from the beginning it wasn’t a matter of being able to follow the Law, but of having faith in the coming Messiah. “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (verse 10). Then we get to the well-loved Romans 10:14-17. (We even have some of those verses on our postcards for Coupals2Uganda). Because they are great verses to encourage people to consider missions abroad. God is clearly showing the need to preach and teach the Word! Paul brings out the Old Testament references showing that God would reach out to the gentiles. But that isn’t where Romans 10 stops. The next several verses are spent indicting Israel for NOT being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Paul isn’t just cheering on future missionaries and evangelists. He is showing the failure of Israel. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had the blessed opportunity to BE the beautiful feet that preach the good news. Instead, Israel hoarded the Word of God and became unfaithful. They traded relationship for religion. And God’s purposes weren’t stopped, but Israel lost the blessing of being the ones to faithfully declare the Word. Romans 10:21 (the last verse of the chapter) says, “But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people”. Disobedient and contrary people! Israel had the Word of God, they had the directive to show the world, and they were disobedient.
How easy it is to be a disobedient and contrary people! So many of us in the church have the mentality that missionaries/pastors/ministry leaders, you name it, are somehow specially equipped and called by God. But God is calling every single person in His church to be a part of the kingdom of priests and holy nation. Just like Israel, we have the Word of God and His directive to make it known. Yet, so often we refuse. We believe that the work of ministry is for someone else. But each and every one of us is called to be the beautiful feet that make the name of Jesus known.
As the church we need to take our calling seriously to preach/teach the Word of God. It isn’t for one specially called person; it isn’t for leaders and the super-spiritual. This is the call of God to every believer. Anyone called by the name of Christ belongs to a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. So today, let us refuse to be disobedient and contrary. Let us not fall into an us/them mentality. Let us walk by faith in the promise that God is calling all people to Himself, Jews and gentiles, but we are to be the mouthpiece, declaring the good news.
We can have feet that are blessed because we use them to share the good news of Jesus; or we can have feet that are firmly rooted in disobedience and apathy.
The Importance of the Bible
I am reading a book about Hudson Taylor right now. And a few things really stood out to me in the first chapter that I have been reflecting on for the last week or so. I figured I would share them with you, as they are some things I have been learning since we moved to Uganda.
The first is what a blessing a Godly heritage is. When he speaks of his parents he says, “For myself, and the work I have been permitted to do for God, I owe an unspeakable debt of gratitude to my beloved and honored parents who have entered into rest, but the influence of whose lives will never pass away”. I know I feel the same about my parents and how they raised me. Salvation is open to any and all who will have faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what an advantage I have in having been raised in a Godly home. So parents out there, even though it can be hard and is often discouraged by so many; take heart, and raise up your kids to know the Lord. Show them your relationship with him. Hudson Taylor and his siblings grew up watching their father pray in his prayer closet. This allowed them to see a real, vibrant relationship with God. This is what children desperately need in their growing years!
Since moving to Uganda, I have come to have a deep appreciation for the privellige of being able to read the Word of God in my own language. The average American household has 7 Bibles! Many folks in the churches we teach at don’t have a Bible at all, and if they do it isn’t in their native tongue, or is in a difficult to read translation. What a blessing it is that I can open any of my numerous Bibles to hear directly from the God of the universe! There is a video of Chinese believers being given Bibles for the first time and it is very moving. I never appreciated what an incredible gift that would be. I have been spoiled in never having been deprived of being able to get into God’s Word. Even as a child, I had a picture Bible. That is a gift many people do not have. It is something the American church takes for granted and it has made us so very lazy.
The second thing I have been reflecting on comes from the first. Since moving to Uganda and spending my days really studying the Old Testament in relation to the New, I have been blown away. It is so easy for us in the west to write off the Old Testament. “We are New Testament believers,” we cry. “We are under grace, not the Law,” we proudly proclaim. And all of this is true. But I can tell you from firsthand experience, that there is a depth of relationship that can only be acheived by study of the entire Bible. About Hudson Taylor and his incredible work for the Kingdom it was said, “God’s character was his only confidence; God’s Word was the sole foundation for his feet.” Americans live in a day where there are books on every subject available. But I would submit to you with full confidence that the only thing a believer needs to walk in the ways they ought is to study the Bible.
Many people have asked us why we teach pastors only the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. But when you look at men like Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, or even Paul the Apostle, these men didn’t have commentaries on every book of the Bible. They studied God’s Word and placed their faith in those truths. They let the Bible be its’ own commentary and understood it as one story with one glorious message. When you read and study Scripture, it enables and compels you to walk in the ways of God. One thing I have gained from studying Scripture as we have been is the confidence that the Bible is one cohesive message.
I used to fear reading the Old Testament because I didn’t understand it. “It’s too hard and it doesn’t even apply anymore,” I would say. But I was so very wrong. The Old Testament was God beautifully weaving His story into the hearts and lives of men and women. It is the very confirmation of Jesus being who He claimed! It is the heartbeat of God pointing forward to the promised Messiah. I never appreciated how incredible Jesus’ life and death was until I began to understand the Old Testament.
So I would encourage each of us to spend more time in studying God’s Word. Men like Hudson Taylor aren’t our examples of our Savior. But lives like his and other’s show what God can accomplish with only a willingness of heart and a passion for sharing God’s Word.
A Valentine's Love Story
We just passed Valentine's Day, a day many people use to show affection to their spouse. But if we want Jesus to be pictured in our marriage just as clearly, then every day must be Valentine's Day. I am not saying that we should get chocolates and flowers every day (though I do love chocolate).The story of Ruth is often taught as a love story of the Bible. I grew up in Sunday School on the story of Ruth and Boaz. Well as we studied Ruth this month for Terebinth, I was struck by the beauty of the love story; not of Ruth and Boaz. No, the story of Ruth is the story of Jesus and the church. There are so many elements in this book that point us forward to the coming Christ. Boaz had already dedicated his life to following God's Word; Ruth moved by faith to Israel to worship the one true God. Those two people were seeking God with their whole hearts. Then God brought them together and they continued to seek God. THIS is what made their marriage such a clear picture of Jesus. In the same way, when we choose to seek God with our whole hearts, our marriage will reflect Christ and be a witness to the world around us. So this February 15th, remember to seek Christ in your life and relationships. Remember the love story in the book of Ruth, that Jesus redeems us and gives us life.
Boaz is a picture of Jesus redeeming His church. He doesn't allow Ruth to glean from his field because she was pretty and young; but because he was following the Law. Leviticus 19:9-10 is one of the places in the Law where God commands that the sojourner, orphan and widow be able to glean from the fields. The Bible calls Boaz "a worthy man" (Ruth 2:1). This points us to Christ being the only one truly worthy to stand before God. He was the worthy representative of mankind. Boaz wasn't worthy because he did right things, but because he had faith AND obedience. He is the kinsman redeemer of Ruth's family, but that on its own has nothing to do with marriage. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 is where this idea of marriage to continue the line comes from. But it only speaks of the deceased's brother. This means that Boaz did not HAVE to marry Ruth. He chose to. He chose to marry her and redeem the land and carry on the name of his kinsman. Just as Jesus did not have to redeem His bride, but chose to out of love.
Ruth was a Moabitess. She was a gentile and foreigner or a sojourner. She left her family and everything she knew to go with Naomi (she was fatherless). And she was a widow. Each of these things is in the Law concerning the gleaning of the fields, but is also our spiritual state without Christ. Without Christ we are spiritually orphaned, have no husband and no home. But in Christ we can have relationship with our heavenly Father, we become the bride of Christ, and He is preparing a place for us to dwell with Him forever! What Boaz offered Ruth by marrying her is exactly what Christ offers us in salvation.
Naomi tells the women to call her Mara (bitterness). Throughout this story she goes from being called pleasant to demanding that everyone call her bitter. She was bitter against God because she believed that He had turned against her. But throughout Ruth's story of redemption, we also see Naomi's. Naomi was bitter and angry with God in chapter 2. Then in chapter 4 we see the birth of a son. Through this son born to Ruth, the women declare to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourished of your old age..." If that doesn't sound like it is pointing forward to Jesus I don't know what is! Not only is this a pre-picture of Christ, but Jesus actually comes through the line of the child who is born, Obed.
So in Ruth we have the greatest love story ever told. But it isn't because two people got married. It's because even in the Old Testament, God was pointing to Jesus who would come and be our redeemer, our restorer of eternal life. My hope and prayer in my own marriage, and hopefully in yours' too, is that Jesus would be represented just as clearly.
Praying through the Ants
So we finally have a way to do blogs again!! Happy day! (We have missed writing them, and hope you have missed reading them).
So to start the cycle again I (Kristin) wanted to share with you some of the things I have been reflecting on recently. Jon and I share a lot in here about what we are learning in study or what God has shown us in our time here. Well this month God has been showing me what prayer looks like. This is also a blog about the struggles we sometimes face. Kent once said the phrase “it isn’t the elephants, but the ants that kill a missionary”. This is not talking about literal ants or elephants (obviously) but that it’s the little things that wear us down the most.
Some folks know that we have been trying to get Jon a work visa so that we can stay in the country legally and without having to border jump for new stamps in our passport. We have been working on that since we arrived in October. It has been an incredibly long process, there was a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration and much prayer. We finally got the approval letter and were told to go to the Immigration office near us. A week after returning from Kampala we went to the office and found out that we have to go to… KAMPALA. That is a 5 hour drive (and once you get into Kampala it is NOT easy driving).
So. We are on our way to Kampala and I was explaining to Jon how I had been praying since we found out the night before that we needed to go down. I talked about how I had long had a habit of trying to bargain with God. The “God if you… then I’ll” prayer. We talked about how God has been teaching me to approach Him as a father, my father, and to ask the way I would ask my daddy here on earth. So I told Jon that I had been praying for God’s favor on the situation because that was a way to ask for what I wanted without demanding certain outcomes from God. It is a way of saying “Thy will be done” while still approaching Him confidently knowing He loves to pour His favor out on His children. So. I prayed for God’s favor as we tried to get Jon’s visa.
At our first break in the drive we called our friend, Joe, who lives in Kampala and graciously found us accomodations at the last minute. Joe paused part way through the conversation and said “you know it is a public holiday right?”. Fun fact: I did not. There are several public holidays in Uganda that the US doesn’t have. So we decided to press on and hope that people showed up to work the next day (a Friday) instead of taking a long holiday.
The next day they WERE open. We got there right at 7:30 so we were first in line. We approached the window at 8:01 and handed them our paperwork. And the man working the counter looked at us and said “did you pay?” The answer was no, because the e-mail from Immigration had said to pay at the immigration office. We explained that and he told us in no uncertain terms that we had to pay at a bank off site before they would help us. So we walked the block and a half to where the bank was. They were open and willing to help us (this was at 8:30). But then tragedy struck again as they told us that even though we were paying in USD (not an easy thing to get here) we would have to wait for the exchange rates to be published at 0900. So we waited.
Jon got the money exchanged and we went back to the Immigration office. We went to see the man who verifies payments and he asked when we had paid. We told him and he looked at us sternly. “You only just paid? Oh it will not be posted. No no. You’d have to be very lucky. It takes all day, all day.” I can tell you that at this point I was honestly almost in tears. I did not want to spend the weekend in Kampala, and I did not want to have to fight traffic again to get back to the office on Monday. I was fairly stressed and a bit flustered at the seeming lack of favor from God. He muttered about how lucky we were that it posted and sent us on our way. We got Jon’s visa from there without much trouble.
We got in the car to leave and Jon just stared at me for a moment before he said, “the battery is dead, the lights are on.” At this point we actually started laughing because OF COURSE the lights were on.
Now, I’m going to tell you parts of the story I left out. I left them out because it wasn’t until we were on the road that I saw the pattern: the pattern of favor.
The day we arrived in Kampala we got to spend the afternoon relaxing after a stressful drive instead of fighting through crowds at the office, only to be sent to the bank likely to late to finish that day.
We walked to the bank and had to wait. But the bank is located in a mall so we got to eat breakfast while we waited. (We forgot to eat dinner the night before and didn’t get lunch until almost 3 because of the car troubles).
The money posted 10 minutes after we paid even though it is usually a day long process. The guy seemed like he couldn’t believe it, and frankly we couldn’t either.
The car was stuck right next to the police mehcanics headquarters so several police officers assisted us with the car. When it wouldn’t jump from a truck, they brought a new battery to start it and got us on our way within 20 minutes. We also made a new friend who promised to come look us up in Gulu if he comes our way.
Why do I tell you these stories of our crazy Kampala trip? One, because those are the things that absolutely drain me as a missionary. It isn’t the cultural customs, or the different food, or learning a new language, or different church styles or any of that. It is not understanding the very different systems of doing things, or not understanding that you pay your bills at the bank not the office etc. It’s the ants, not the elephants. (Speaking of, I was pretty unhappy when I came home to a countertop of dead ants... literal ants. But. All of those little moments of confusion and fear and frustration, God was giving His favor in ways I didn’t anticipate. He has been faithful in so many ways; I couldn’t ever recount them all. And in these moments where I am so faithless, He is faithful.
He has been teaching me to pray in new ways. Not as a scared criminal before a judge, bargaining and begging. But as a daughter approaching her Father to ask for His help, comfort and peace. I wonder how many of us find ourselves praying as if we are begging or persuading. Often when I find myself in those impersonal prayers, it is because my life has been prayerless. When I am in constant communication I find myself not afraid to pray and ask for God’s blessing on situations, because I am talking to my Father.
So all of this is just to encourage you to be in prayer. Take the little things to your Father in prayer and see how He answers. It often isn’t in the way we expect, but when we look back we can be blown away with how He knows and meets our needs. Whether it is providing our literal daily bread, or just bringing comfort in times of troubles. I used to believe that I should only pray over the big things, the HUGE things. I have found that it really is as Jesus said “our daily bread”. When we pray in the little and the big, we see God answer us in the little, and the big.
Christmas and Mission
Merry Christmas (almost)! I love Christmas season, it is one of my favorite things. When we were back in Colorado I was the lady who decorated in October. (Note: I no longer do that here since it is HIGHLY strange haha). This is a blogpost about Christmas, and missions. To be 100% honest, I didn’t really want to write it. However, the Lord has really been stirring my heart, so what can you do?
Christmas is a time where we celebrate the long, arduous travels of a 9 months-pregnant girl and her husband. Both were stepping out in crazy huge faith to believe in the promises of God. They ended up far from home and had a baby in a barn. Not long after they had to flee to a foreign land, again, on the word of God. That is the kind of thing I can’t imagine experiencing; though I do have a better idea now.
People have asked Jon and I so many questions about our life over here: what do we love, what do we hate, what do we eat, what do we wear, what is easy, what is hard…? Many people assume the biggest sacrifice is bunking with bugs, or having slithery neighbors right outside, and those are not some of the more enjoyable parts. However, the biggest sacrifice hasn’t been giving up my jeans for a skirt or learning to cook from scratch. It isn’t the copious bug bites itching our ankles or the heat reaching the 90’s for Christmas. The biggest sacrifice of most, if not every, missionary/missionary family is knowing that we won’t be “home for Christmas” (go ahead and hum the tune in your head, I did). Now, I don’t just mean Christmas as in December 25. I mean the birthdays, holidays, big events, little events, joys and sorrows that come with living life in a place. So many of us have family and friends back in [insert wherever we come from]. I know that back in Colorado, Christmas doesn’t feel quite like it should for our families. I know that our stockings are a reminder that this year part of their hearts is across the world.
It is hard not being with family for Christmas, but it is even harder knowing how much they feel it. It is hard for us overseas missionaries to know that our absence makes the holidays (and other events) just a little bit bleak for those who love us back in our first home. But it also brings me back to the first Christmas.
I can’t help but wonder if missing our family isn’t a small picture of how God the Father must have felt on that first Christmas too. I’ve made the comparison before of the sending out of their sons/daughters for the sake of the gopsel and the Father sending the Son. But around Christmas I see it so much more clearly. How wonderful a sacrifice it was for Jesus to come. We’ve never known perfect fellowship with our parents (although they are the best). Jesus was in perfect fellowhsip and relationship with the Father; He was creator and ruler of all. And on that first Christmas He became a tiny baby for my sake, for yours. I can’t imagine how much the Father missed the Son, how much heaven missed Him.
I think the Christian life is meant to reflect and mimic Jesus’ life. I think that should be even more so for the cross-cultural missionary. Because even though the sacrifice of being away is hard, we aren’t the first ones to do it. Because the King who holds our hearts became the best cross-cultural missionary for me. Because even though there is missing each other
in being so far from family during these big events, God the Father sent the Son far away on that first Christmas too. If the God of the Universe can choose to sacrifice everything He ever had to welcome me into His family, I think the only reasonable response is for me to do the same for others.
So this Christmas we will be missing family. There will be that little bit of sadness even in the celebration. But I am comforted beyond measure in the fact that we are following in the footsteps of Jesus. I am comforted that our family has a better understanding of the heart of God because they sent their children out for the sake of the gospel. And I am comforted in all things and all pains that one day I get to stand before my Savior and celebrate Christmas eternally.