Give Me Your Eyes, Jesus, and a Heart Like You

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My prayer over the past week, and really all the time, goes a little like this – “Give me your eyes, Jesus, and a heart like you.” To see this world and your people the way you see them. To love like you do, unconditionally, without reservation. Never expecting anything in return.

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As I have been praying for the Lord to give me His eyes and His heart, He has been showing me how to see the beautiful people all around me the way He sees them. Each one a unique and beautiful creation. Each one with a capacity to love and a need to be loved. God will gladly give us His eyes and His heart, when we ask, so that we can be His hands and feet, His arms open wide to the hurting world and people around us.

Romans 12: 4-13 – “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speaking out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is to serve others, serve them well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift of showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” 

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In my Jesus Calling devotional the other morning, it really struck me when the author wrote,

“Most of mankind’s misery stems from feeling unloved. In the midst of adverse circumstances, people tend to feel that love has been withdrawn and they have been forsaken. This feeling of abandonment is often worse than the adversity itself. Be assured that I never abandon any of My children, not even temporarily. I will never leave you or forsake you! My Presence watches over you continually. I have engraved you in the palms of My hands.

Jeremiah 31:3 – “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Everyone needs love. Every single one of us. Every single one of my precious students. And every single person who crosses our paths – whether they seem receptive to it or not. It is a basic human need. And, just like God loves us with an everlasting, unconditional love, we are called to do the same to others. Loving the people God places right in front of us, or halfway around the world (for a season), is being obedient, and following the greatest commandment of all – to love one another as Christ has loved us. Even when it is hard. Even when it costs you something. And even when it may not be reciprocated or even acknowledged.

            In a devotional that my fiancé, Wesley, and I are reading together as we prepare for marriage, called Mingling of Souls, Matt Chandler writes:

“Getting our hearts into this way of thinking is the hardest thing in marriage by far because all of us tend to love in order to get something in return. (You can tell when it’s not really love you’re giving because you begin to withhold it because you don’t think the response is good enough). Jesus calls us to a more selfless way, the way of the cross. His way calls us to love purely because it’s the right thing to do, because it honors Him and glorifies His Father. Jesus emptied himself in order to love imperfect responders. That’s real love.”

            Yes, this devotional is intending to talk about love in terms of marriage. But, I believe, this is the same type of “real love” we should show to everyone – regardless of who they are or where they come from, and regardless of whether we really have anything in common with them.

As anyone who knows me could tell you, I love music. And hardly go anywhere without playing it, as it always uplifts my spirits and brings me so much joy. My all-time favorite worship song is “Heart Like You,” by Love and the Outcome, and the lyrics remind me of this so beautifully:

“Burn bright

In my life

Burn away the things

I hold tight

Give me

Eyes to see

Your Kingdom

The way You want it

To be

What can be worth more than You

What do I have I wouldn’t lose

If it means You and I

Look more alike

That’s what I choose

(Chorus)

I’d give up the world to find my soul

Pour out my life, give You control

I just want to be what You want me to be

I just want a heart that’s true

A heart like You

I just want a heart like You”

Yes, we are so very loved by our Father God. But out of the great love He has given us, we are called to share that love to those He puts along our path. Our cups should runneth over. God fills us up so that we can pour our lives out to others. Even when we may not always feel loved or accepted here on Earth, we can always remember that we are fully loved and accepted by Jesus Christ – who payed the greatest cost to show us His love for us, by dying on that cross.

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Personally, there are days here in Uganda when I feel so loved and welcomed by the people around me, that my heart could literally explode. But, on other days (and in my mosquito netted top-bunk alone at night), it is easy to question why I am here and let the enemy convince me that I am all alone and forgotten over here – away from everyone I love and know back at home (which I know could not be farther from the truth). But Satan is the Father of lies, and can be really sneaky sometimes..especially when I am exhausted (mentally and physically) from pouring out all that I have, day in and day out. But, in the midst of this, I have to constantly remind myself of the most important truth: that I am not only loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father, but I am His daughter. His precious child. His beloved. And that He never leaves me or forsakes me. He can fill me back up…again and again. So that I can keep loving, keep pursuing others, and keep being His hands and feet here in Uganda. 

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So even on days when I want to give up, and I am too tired to tie another shoelace or comfort one of my students when they are sad or get a “wound” (which they call any small cut or scrape here), I press on. When I am exhausted from the noise in our classroom and my patience is running thin, I ask Jesus to help me be kind and gentle. When it is time for bathing and naps, and the kids are wild and crazily running around the room, I ask Jesus to help me be tender and soft. I rely on the love of my Heavenly Father in order to have His love to pour out to His little ones in my classroom and to the women I interact with daily at the James Place, who really just need a hug and a smile. Little ones who are longing for love, longing for acceptance, and longing to be noticed. Women who are longing to have a purpose, to be seen, to be noticed, and to be appreciated. Just like the rest of us.

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Throughout our days in the classroom, Teacher Rebecca and I are constantly striving to make sure each of our students feels loved. That each one of them feels cared for. That each one of them feels noticed. Every single morning (and throughout the day), I am constantly bombarded with hugs by my students, sometimes so much so, that it is impossible to walk. Yes, I know they are showing me how much they love me, but at the same time, I think they are seeking affirmation and love that we all seek. To be seen. To be loved. To be cared for. To be known.

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This week, we sang a new song in our class that goes like this:

“If you want to care for someone, give a hug! (Everyone hugs a friend). If you want to care for someone, give a hug! (Everyone hugs another friend). If you want to show you care, God’s love is good to share. If you want to care for someone, give a hug! (Everyone hugs one another).”

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And on a HEAL Ministries social media post the other day, the caption of the precious picture said,

“Holding hands gives a moment of safety to a child…to a friend…to a woman in need. It gives hope and a moment that says everything is going to be okay. We are often asked what we do. It’s a much bigger answer than teaching and empowering women to learn a business or trade that keeps their families together. It’s about relationships. It’s about holding hands and encouraging others. We love all the tiny moments that evolve into big transformation.”

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I am learning, both inside and outside of the classroom, that love comes out in all different forms. Sometimes, love means a hug. Sometimes, love means listening. Sometimes, love means speaking truth. Sometimes, love means making silly poses (see the picture above – when we were demonstrating how the Lord is our strength). Sometimes, love means breaking out in a dance party to lift everyone’s spirits (which we often do in the classroom). All the time, though, love means being a friend – to whoever and whomever God places right in front of you. Love acts – it is not just enough to say you love someone – you must show it.  

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In the book I am currently reading, Daring to Hope, by Katie Davis Majors, she writes, “The more I asked my Father God to give me His eyes for the people He brought into our life and home, the more He confirmed that He did not view anyone as the next ministry project or person to be evangelized but as someone just like me who needed to be lavished with His undeserved, unmerited blessing, love, and favor. He was changing my vision, again giving me eyes to see that we most deeply experience His beauty when we walk with others in the darkness.”

As you can see in the picture below, the verse of the week in our classroom was written on our little whiteboard as a reminder to always show kindness and hospitality to others, even strangers, because in doing so, we may be showing hospitality to angels.

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But most importantly, when we see others through God’s eyes and with His heart and choose to be the hands and feet of Christ to them (the way God calls us to), we are really serving Him.

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Matthew 25:40 – “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

            I am learning how important it is to be right where you are – because you will never get that moment or opportunity back. God places us with a specific person in a certain moment for a particular reason. But we have a choice – will we love? …or will we turn away? We will never be perfect or able to save the world, but we can love. We can be present. We can meet the needs of others, to the best of our abilities. And that is being obedient to God.

Isn’t that how God treats us, though? He is always there, despite our feelings, and meets us right where we are. He wants us to do the same with others.

When I asked for Him to give me His eyes and a heart like Him, I realized that all I was really asking for was to better learn how to be present. To see people for who they are and what God specifically created them to do. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. To encourage and spur others on. We are all a beautiful creation of God, created to do great things. When we remember these truths, it helps us to love others the way we are called to do, and to meet people exactly where they are. Just like God does for each of us.

C.S. Lewis so beautifully wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

God will give us His eyes and His heart when we ask. But once He does, we must choose to be love. We must choose to love unconditionally. We must choose to put others before ourselves. Love is a choice. A daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, moment-by-moment choice. And something that matters so very greatly to our Heavenly Father! And, in doing so, you never know whose life or journey you are going to impact in taking those small steps of obedience, to do the Father’s will, and to be His hands and His feet. No matter where you are and no matter what you are doing, every little act of kindness and love matters and makes a difference.

God will give us His eyes and His heart so that we can be His hands and His feet.

2 Corinthians 1:4 – “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

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“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

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This Sunday morning was one I will truly never forget. I was invited this past week to attend church by my dear friend, Alice, who works in the kitchen at The James Place. Her husband is the head pastor at the church, called “Apostles Church” in Bugembe – a village in the Jinja area – and, all week, she couldn’t wait for me to come visit and spend time with her family.

Honestly, I don’t think this post can even begin to encompass all that I experienced this  special Sunday morning, but I hope that my words will be able to give you a small glimpse of the beauty and spirit this day possessed.

I was picked up by a trusted driver at 8:30 AM from our living quarters, and from there, rode about 30 minutes down bumpy red dirt roads to a small town called Bugembe – where I was so graciously greeted by Alice’s husband and young friend (that he is currently training to be a pastor). They preceded to walk me through parts of the village, while picking up a few friends, elders, and deacons (and their little ones) of the church along the way – literally going doorstep to doorstep, hugging and adding more people to their group, one by one. It felt like I was experiencing a small version of what it must have been like back in Jesus’ day, when He would travel from place to place, picking up each of His twelve disciples along the way, from the unlikeliest of places. To serve a God who loves us all, a God who shows no preference or favoritism (as the Pastor reminded us repeatedly later during His sermon).

Romans 10:13 – for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

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Upon arriving at the small, roof-less building that they were so proud to call their church, I was simply in awe. In awe of the beautiful simplicity of the church. In awe of the humble living conditions of the church attendees. And as I was soaking it all in, I felt arms sweetly grab me from behind, and embrace me in the warmest, most welcoming hug. Of course, it was Alice, and other members of her family, who had walked miles and miles to get there. Though Alice was originally the only connection I had to “Apostles Church,” I immediately felt right at home. Completely and totally at peace. Like one of them. And, in addition to being hugged and greeted by everyone in the room, I was told more times than I could even count, “You are welcome here.” I think that’s how Jesus intended it, though. As He says in His word,

Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

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In this small, roofless structure, I not only met beautiful people and worshiped alongside my brothers in sisters in Christ –  I met the Holy Spirit. I felt the presence of Jesus like I never have before. He met each of us there, in that small space of cracked mud floors and disintegrating brick walls. And I can say that with complete and absolute confidence.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

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We greeted one another, we prayed, we worshiped, we listened to the word of God, we heard and celebrated powerful testimonies of God’s faithfulness, and then we prayed some more. But when I say, “we prayed,” I don’t mean we read a lifeless list of words, I mean we prayed. Pastor Kurubba David (Alice’s husband) led prayer and laid hands on every person in the room, individually, and, though Alice had to translate a lot for me (whenever Pastor Kurubba wasn’t speaking in English), I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. The sermon today consisted of how we are to follow Christ’s example, and though God gave us ten commandments to follow, there are two that are most dear and important to His heart – to love God and to love our neighbor.

Matthew 22:36-40 – Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Throughout the rest of his sermon, he talked about how, in Christ, we are a new creation, and, like any good teacher would, Christ has left us an example to follow. HE is the example.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

1 Peter 2:21 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

The pastor went on to explain that the reason we are still here today (even when many of our loved ones may not be, as they informed me was the case for many of them) is to follow and take the footsteps of Christ. To do good things, so that people will follow you as you are doing good things. To walk, as He walked. To preach the gospel of hope, like He did. To love, like He did. To follow His example. That is why we are still here. And as for the people I was blessed enough to be in the presence of today, they are doing just that. God wants us to love Him and love our neighbors. It is that simple.

At one point during the preaching, he even pointed at me and said, “Look at our friend Emily here. She is a new creation. A new woman. Not the old Emily. She is a transformed person. She is here to spread the good news. To be merciful. To help the poor. To be like Christ. That is why God has her here.” As he was saying this out loud to the congregation, I was completely shocked and humbled to my core. But as I processed what he had just said, I realized he was right. I wouldn’t be here today, serving in Uganda and teaching my precious little ones, if it wasn’t for how Jesus had changed my life all those years ago, when I fully committed my life to Him and stopped living for myself. When he broke me down so that He could build me back up…putting my identity in Him alone. Thanks be to God – all glory to HIM!

Throughout the rest of our time there, I heard stories and saw products of Jesus’ healing and power – from saving women in dangerous childbirth labor (who were now standing and healthy, worshiping Jesus with babies in their arms and small children by their side), healing of a woman with an extreme mental illness (who was now a vital, active part of the church), protection of a woman who was thugged by multiple robbers the night before (but, through the grace of God, was able to testify today and tell us how Jesus had provided a kind man on a boda boda to rescue her and retrieve the stolen money), and many many more. The list of the testimonies I heard today could go on and on and on.

The entire three and a half hours of the service, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the faith and courage these people had to start a church from the ground-up, with no musical instruments, no roof, and really no resources at all (other than a few cracked, falling apart wooden benches). At one point in the sermon, as more and more community members were filing in, Pastor Kurubba laughed with his congregation about how, “We need to pray for God to provide more chairs. Praise Him!” In fact, most church attendees did not even own their own Bible, and if they did, they were usually worn and torn, definitely well-used and shared among the community.

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Back at home, I attend an incredible church – with incredible pastors, incredible elders, incredible worship, incredible members, and incredible resources (everything from sound equipment, to computers and screens to project lyrics, and black out curtains that lift and fall over the stunning stained-glass windows during different parts of the service, to provide different aspects of beautiful natural lighting). I adore this church. I met my wonderful fiancé, John Wesley, at this church. And we are actually getting married there in a few months, too! 😊 But, as I was worshiping alongside my friends at “Apostles Church” today, in a little village in Africa called Bugembe, I couldn’t help but think… do we really need all that we have in our churches at home? Do these great “things” and “resources” actually distract us from the power of the Holy Spirit, that I experienced fuller than ever before in this place, with nothing but God’s people and mud floors? I am the first to agree that all churches reach different audiences through different means, so there must be a difference in how we approach preaching the gospel and worshiping the Lord. But at the end of it all, all that really matters is that we are gathering in HIS name, not in the name of a certain church or a certain label. Not in the name of a certain pastor or denomination or theology. But in the name of JESUS. That is it. That is all that matters to God, whose opinion is the only one that really matters.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Something Wesley (my fiancé) and I always talk about is how strongly we believe, as Christians, that we should be the MOST full of joy, because in Christ, no matter what our circumstances may be, we can have everlasting joy.

Isaiah 35:10 – “Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.”

If we want others to see the power of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through us, we should live in a way that stirs others’ hearts, young and old, to want to know Him. To see and experience His love and joy. Yes, this world can be hard and our circumstances can be tough. Trust me, I am not downplaying the brokenness of this world. Especially being in Africa, living and working amidst some of the most oppressed, vulnerable, sick and poor people in the world. I know and have seen that this world we live in is broken. But Jesus didn’t call us to walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders, because HE wants to carry our loads. HE wants to set us free. HE wants to lighten our load. And the people I worshiped alongside in “Apostles Church” this morning know this. They wholeheartedly believe it. They live it out. And I pray that I will learn from their example and take these lessons back home with me to America after my time here in Uganda is through.

Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I can honestly say, I have never seen such a joyful group of people. I was completely humbled by the joy and brightness of smiles of the men, women, and children I was standing beside, as they raised their hands, crying out to and praising their Lord. Their Savior. Their Father. Their friend. Jesus Christ.

Though we will never be perfect or have it right, we serve a God who IS perfect. Who always gets it right. Who is always on time. A God who can enter any situation, and provide comfort that no one or nothing else in the world ever truly can.

After the service, everyone stuck around for a good while to say their farewells and share life with one another. I was cared for and genuinely loved by a complete group of strangers who, in a span of 3 and a half hours, felt like they had just become my family. I was given handshakes and hugs. I was given babies to hold. I was prayed over by a wise woman named “Mother Edith” – who was ecstatic to hear that I was engaged to a man studying in seminary to become a pastor, and promised to pray for our marriage and for us to do God’s will together for the rest of our lives. I was well loved. I saw a little glimpse of Jesus in the eyes of every person in that room, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

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After saying our goodbyes, Alice and her family led me down red dirt roads as we walked a little over an hour to her family’s home in Walukuba, a village just past the Masese Slums (where her family was just recently able to move out of, due to the Lord’s provision).

Her family no longer lives in a red mud hut, but in a house with concrete floors and a tin roof over their heads. They have pigs, goats, and cows to tend to. A field of sweet potatoes to call their own. And beautiful banana trees surrounding their home. Praise be to God!

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They had prepared a meal of matoke (similar to a banana), cassava (a starch-like vegetable), sweet potato, and beans for us to eat for lunch. I left their home this afternoon with a full belly and an even fuller heart. Not only does Alice love everyone she meets, but she loves her family the way Christ calls her to. She has ten children of her own (some grown and out on their own, and some still living under her roof), and just recently adopted a little boy in a nearby village, who needed a home. Alice is the definition of a Godly woman, and I learn so much more about Jesus by simply being in her presence, soaking in her words of wisdom and actions that prove her strong faith.

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As I was headed out on my way back to my living quarters in town, Alice’s husband asked if he could pray. We all held hands in a circle and prayed, thanking the Lord for the beautiful day He had made, and praying for His protection and grace for the rest of the day to come. What a beautiful picture of a community loving God and loving one another – two things very near and dear to God’s heart.

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I hope that these words and pictures were able to give you a small glimpse into the mighty presence of the Lord I experienced today through people that left me very well loved.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Simplicity

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Simplicity.

The past week, I have been slowly learning and processing more about what this word entails, and wanted to share some special moments that will, hopefully, be able to speak as much to you as they did to me.


 

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The other day, in the middle of our daily chores, my dear friend Alice (who works in the Kitchen at HEAL) and I started talking, catching up about life and how one another was doing. She delivers our breakfast, snack, and lunch to our classroom every day, so we have been able to spend a good portion of our days together this past month. Since knowing her during my time here last summer, she and her family, through the Lord’s provision (that she always makes sure to remind me of, giving ALL glory to Him), have been able to move out of Masese (one of the largest slums in Jinja) and expand the church that her husband pastors (that used to be held in a little mud hut) into a nicer part of town. She has invited me to come visit the new church this Sunday and eat lunch with her family afterwards – and to say I am ecstatic about it would be an extreme understatement! 

But in the middle of our seemingly casual conversation and her incredibly kind invitation to visit, she just stopped and looked up at the trees and the sky, and said “Emily. This world is nothing. Nothing. But with God, we have everything. HE is our hope.” 

Though at first I was taken aback by this statement that seemed to come completely out of the blue, I couldn’t seem to get what she said out of my mind. Did I really believe that? That my hope is in Christ alone, and not what this world can give me? Is it really that simple? 


 

And here is where my little “teachers” come in…daily.

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Man, they teach me so much about how simple the gospel really is. Right now, we are really working hard on learning how to share and speak words of life to one another (aren’t we all?). As little Hanani always likes to stand up in front of the class and tell her friends (sometimes I even let her stand up on her chair and yell it out…I know, I’m that teacher 🙂 ) – “We must always be kind and love one another. Because Jesus loves us all.” 

Sweet little Hanani is the one that came up with this simple, but so beautifully true statement. And it has been spreading like wildfire among the little mouths of my students, as they are gradually growing in their English skills and learning new phrases each day (that they often like to repeat again and again). But this is a phrase that I hope sticks around for weeks and years to come…and I can’t help but admit, it makes me feel like such a proud teacher whenever I hear them say those simple words of truth to one another (and to any visitor that happens to pop into our classroom, which always leaves them smiling so big as they walk out the door). Especially the final words – “Jesus loves us all.” 

Yes, my students need this reminder. But so do we. So do I.

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As I was having my quiet time this morning, I found myself listening over and over again to the same song, Simplicity by Rend Collective. The beautiful lyrics just kept running through my mind, as they seemed to be exactly what the Lord was trying to teach me, through my precious students and sweet Ugandan friends here like Alice: 

I come in simplicity

Longing for purity

To worship You

In spirit and truth

Only You

Lord strip it all away

‘Til only You remain

I’m coming back

To my first love

Only You

You’re the reason I sing

The reason I sing

Yes my heart will sing

How I love You

And forever I’ll sing

Forever I’ll sing

Yes my heart will sing

How I love You

I come with my broken song

To You the Perfect One

To worship You

In spirit and truth

Only You

Only You

Give me a childlike heart

Lead me to where You are

Cause I’m coming back

To my first love

Only You

You’re the reason I sing

The reason I sing

Yes my heart will sing

How I love You…”

In the middle of playing this song while getting ready for work this morning, all of the power in the house suddenly went out. It went dark. This happens very regularly in Jinja, so I didn’t think much of it. 

But as I arrived to work at the James Place, I was told just how massive of a storm had hit Jinja – with power lines completely down throughout the city and many homes and roads heavily damaged. All of us decided to pray for fast recovery and the power to come back as soon as possible, but as always, my little students were full of JOY and loved to continually yell and sing, “Where there is darkness, JESUS brings the LIGHT!” At one point, we even began to laugh and sing one of our favorite songs “This Little Light of Mine,” while waving our little pretend candles and just having the best time in our dark little classroom. 

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Oh, how they know Him and how much they are constantly teaching me. Wayyy more than I could ever teach them.

Sometimes, it takes being stripped of everything else to make us remember this truth. In simplicity, we can see Jesus for who He really is: Our true light. Our only hope. 

Through being away from everyone I love and everything I know here, I have been daily asking myself the question – is Jesus really enough? And I can honestly tell you, though it is hard sometimes to believe this in the midst of my hardest moments, He is. And always will be. Whether we feel like it or not. 

If we place our hope in anything or anyone else, we will always be let down and come up short, always thirsting for more, trying to fill our souls with things of this world. But, as Alice so sweetly reminded me the other day, “This world is nothing. Nothing. But with God, we have everything. HE is our hope.”


 

Today, during independent reading time, precious little Mutesi picked up the Bible from the teacher’s desk, and came and wrapped her arms around me, looking up at me with her beautiful eyes, “Teacha Emily, please come and read for me?” I almost burst out in tears of joy right then and there. I mean, what child at the age of 4 voluntarily picks up a Bible and begs to read it?

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Mutesi daily sees Teacher Rebecca and I looking through our Bibles, writing verses on our walls, and reminding one another of God’s truths, but for her to ask to read this book that she can’t even read the words in, with no pictures or anything to entertain her? She knows the life this book brings, and her little heart is seeking. She knows Jesus loves her at her very core. And she knows the power of His word – even if she can’t read or understand what it says without the help of her teacher. 

Humbling. So so humbling. And so so beautiful. Even this little student of mine knows the power of Jesus. That He is the way and the truth and the light. And she has already seen so much brokenness in her short four years of life (that no child should ever have to experience), that she knows she needs Jesus’ love – a love that will never fail her, even when the world around her very well may. 

Aren’t we all like this, though? Searching for the power and love that only Jesus can bring? We might not know how or even where to start, but deep down, we all know that we are missing something. That we all need something more, someone or something greater to depend on. That we need Jesus. 

On my daily runs around our living compound, I am constantly watching where my feet land, dodging potholes left and right. No matter what the people try to “fill” these darn potholes with, they just seem to be an inevitable part of life over here. These Potholes in the ground are such a daily reminder to me – on my runs and to and from work each day in our Matatu (the name for a tiny van here) – that, yes, I am in Uganda.

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This is a silly analogy, but it kind of fits, if you think about it. A hole that just can’t seem to be filled? 

I can’t help but think of the verses in the Bible when Jesus meets and shows compassion to the woman at the well. A woman who has been outcast by her community because of her circumstances, leaving her to search for belonging in all the wrong places – thus, the analogy of going again and again to the well to draw water that just never seems to be enough. In the midst of this, Jesus meets her in her brokenness, shows her compassion, and reminds her of His simple truth:

John 4: 13-14 – “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

But aren’t we all the woman at the well? Trying to fill the “holes” in our lives with everything and anything else? When all along, Jesus is the only one who ever can or will satisfy. He is the living water. He is the well that never runs dry.

Oh, how I pray I will bring this lesson back home after my time here in Uganda. And never forget this sweet sweet season of learning what it means to fully rely on Jesus from this place and these people – in the midst of brokenness, hurt, and pain so hard to even wrap your mind around, but yet, the most joyful and spirit-filled environment you can possibly imagine. 

In the simplicity, we can see Jesus for who He really is. The light that will guide us to our true home…in heaven. The love that will never disappoint. And the only source of hope that can NEVER be taken away, no matter what the world or our circumstances may try to tell us. 

Simplicity is where Jesus is found. It is in the quiet, still times that we can hear Him. In the moments when only He can fill us up. That the soft whispers of His love can be noticed. 

Does loving Jesus and living out the gospel have to be as hard as we make it? No. Let’s take the advice of my little students and remember these simple truths – “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” 

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He is our true light. He is our way home. He brings fullness to our lives. 

John 7:37 – “…Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 

John 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

(On the left, two of my precious students are leading our daily prayers and worship…and you can see here just a glimpse of how deeply they pray. On the right, I am cuddling sweet baby Malachi after he woke up from his nap, and his sweet mother Grace needed me to hold him while she took care of a few chores…as you can tell, I didn’t mind one bit! 🙂 ) 

Beauty in the Broken

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“Living radical isn’t about where you live; it’s about how you love. How you love the beauty of Him, how you love His beautiful people. It’s about realizing: Real life, large love, doesn’t happen when you arrive in a certain place. It happens when your heart arrives in a certain place. Wherever you are, right where you are, dirt-road Africa or side-street America. When your heart decides to move into God, you are always given what you’re really hoping for: more of God. Daring to hope for big things isn’t about having extraordinary faith; it’s about being faithful in the small, ordinary things. It’s about leaning into the next right thing and finding what you’ve always hoped for: His shoulder to lean on, His arms to carry all, His heart to be your home.” – Daring to Hope by Katie Davis MajorsProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

I wanted to open this blog with this quote from Katie Davis Major’s new book, Daring to Hope, because I have recently started reading it during my time here in Uganda (since I am living in the same city as her now and attending church at her ministry, Amazima, each Sunday). It has been really special being able to read it while living (and breathing) in the red dirt of Jinja, amongst the broken but beautiful surroundings that break your heart each and every day, but yet, where you see God at work constantly. Because God meets us in the broken. He lives and makes his dwelling place with the hurt, the sick, the needy, the desperate. The broken sinners, just like you and me.

Yes, I may be currently living across the pond in Africa, but we all still have the same desperate need. A Savior. Jesus Christ. He is, and always will be, all that we need. No matter where you live or what you do, there will be challenges. But when we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, we can weather the storm. We can cling to Him, our anchor in the storm. He can bring beauty out of every situation that we face in life…if we let Him open our eyes enough to see it.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

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My little students are such a beautiful reminder of this truth to me. Every morning, no matter what has gone on at home the night before or whether they have had a meal since the last time I saw them, they greet me each and every morning with the biggest smiles and joyful hugs. “Teacha Emmillyyyy! We are so happy to seeeee you!” Talk about joy. These students of mine come from some of the most broken home lives and living situations you can imagine, yet they have the most joy out of any children I have ever seen. In the picture below, my students were attempting to make a tree out of their individual leaves (while learning the letter L), and I couldn’t help but think of this verse as they were doing it:

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James 17:7-8 – “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Because of their brokenness, they are so open to learning about Jesus. In fact, they crave to know more about Him and His great love for them. Last week during planning, I was sitting outside our classroom on the steps trying to jot down some bible verses to post around our classroom as daily reminders and encouragement. Within a few moments, my students had woken up from nap time and surprised me by jumping on my back, asking me what I was doing. When I told them I was writing down some of my favorite verses from the Bible, they immediately begged me, “Teacha emmilyyyy! Please read these for us!”

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Oh, how they hunger for God’s word. How they hunger for his love. I do not pity or think less of my students because of where they come from. They are, actually, the ones who have it right. They never for a second think that they don’t need a Savior, because they know what it is like to be desperate. They know what it is like to see loved ones die, way too young. They know what it is like to be without food to eat, a roof to live under, a stable family to depend on. With living conditions and quality of life being much lower in Uganda, this leaves people no choice but to look somewhere for help. Without stable healthcare or even access to many medical needs, often there is no choice but to pray. To rely on a Savior who is always working in the midst of their brokenness and hurting to bring comfort and beauty that only He can provide “…and bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and of garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

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Psalm 34:10 – “Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.”

I have been learning so much about what God sees as beautiful during my time here. What we may originally see as trash or mess, God sees as beauty. When we think we are at the end of our rope, ready to give up hope, God meets us there. In the broken places. In our hurt. In our confusion. In our pain. In our mess. In fact, I believe that is exactly where He wants us. It’s when we are at the end of ourselves that we can truly see God for who He is. Almighty. All powerful. All that we need. Because, at the end of it all, He is all that we have. And that is where we are most open to receive His incredible love that He has for us.

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Everyone has heard the old saying, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” – and in our lives, even when we can’t comprehend or see the beauty of a certain situation on our own, God can see beauty. He can make broken things beautiful again. He can redeem all things. All of my students’ stories and their home lives. All parts of our stories and our lives. That’s what He has done and is continuing to do for me. And He wants to do the same for you.

He sees my students. He cares. He sees me. He cares. He sees you. He cares.

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We are all broken, but beautiful, pieces of pottery, that Jesus is slowly piecing back together again, turning our broken mess into His beautiful masterpiece. He is the maker. We are the clay.

And we are all in desperate need of something. Broken in some way or another.

As any engaged person would, I miss my amazing fiancé (who loves me and encourages me so well, even halfway around the world) like crazy, and would never have planned to be away from him for 6 months of our engagement, but I know that God is using this season to draw me so much closer to Himself and to become more like Him. But it doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Jesus is all that I have here, and it is His kindness to teach me to rely on Him alone during this season of loving His little ones and serving Him day in and day out, away from everyone I love and every comfort I know. Because it is in these seasons that His love shines brightest. He is using my precious students, the incredible women at the James Place, and the beauty of this place to show me more of His love for me, and I am growing more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined than if I had stubbornly stuck to “my plan” or “my wants and desires.” And it is so, so beautiful.

His plans are way greater than ours, and even when we can’t see it, He is working to make us into His beautiful masterpieces.

At church yesterday morning, the pastor spoke about the importance of laying whatever “desperate need” and cry or longing of your heart at the feet of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what it is, we all have it. We all are longing for something, hurting in some way or another – whether we are brave enough to admit it or not. But, as the pastor told the church, when we are brave enough to trust Jesus with whatever our “desperate need” is, He intersects us there. In the midst of our waiting and in the midst of our doubts. In the midst of our brokenness.

In John 11, why do you think Jesus waited 2 days to raise Lazarus from the dead? When, so easily, he could have just snapped his fingers and brought Lazarus back to life right at that very second? Why? Because he wanted Mary and Martha’s faith to be strengthened.

And it was just so funny that, in the midst of a hard day and feeling extra broken yesterday, God met me there. He not only provided His sweet sweet love, but He provided a friend here to comfort me in ways I didn’t even know that I needed – with a sweet note of encouragement and the gentle touch of a hand in prayer. And later on that day, my precious fiancé decided to come up with this great “plan” to frame his picture of me and take it with him places so that I would always feel like I was still with him, even though I may physically be over here in Africa.

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Yes, this was so cheesy. But so stinkin’ precious. And man, God has been bringing so much joy, beauty, and fruit into our relationship and engagement season because of this trial of being apart. Only God can plan a story like this.

Philippians 2:17-18 – “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”

Though we can’t always see it, and sometimes never do, God is bringing beauty out of what we are facing. And God sees nothing more beautiful than us pressing more into HIM. He will do whatever it takes to do that, because He loves us that much.

John Piper wrote, “God so values our wholehearted faith that he will, graciously, if necessary, take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on – even life itself. His aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself will be all we need.”

He wants us to be able to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73: 25-26).

Yesterday,  watching the sun shine through the clouds after a slow, rainy Sunday afternoon here, I came across one of my favorite songs – “I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hellos and the lyrics just kept ringing through my mind –

“And the sun it does not cause us, the sun it does not cause us to grow. It is the rain that will strengthen, the rain that will strengthen your soul. It will make you whole.”

How will we grow if we never get rained on? Just like the flowers and the crops of the fields, we need both the sunshine and the rain to become who God created us to be for His glory!

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And I just happened to read in my devotional that morning, too:

“In the Bible, clouds are always associated with God. Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no faith. ‘The clouds are the dust of His feet’ (Nahum 1:3). They are a sign that God is there.”My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

But isn’t this the truth? Yes, we all love sunshine and happy times. But isn’t it the hard times, the broken times, that make us who we are? That cause us to grow? God takes our broken and makes it beautiful. God takes our test and makes it a testimony. He can and will bring beauty out of all things, if we let Him. I pray that we will learn to trust Him more. To let him transform our broken into beautiful, one moment at a time. He is making all things beautiful in its time.

Revelation 21: 3-6 – “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write these down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

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What I’m Learning From My Many “Teachers” Here in Uganda

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I may be known and embraced as “Teacha Emily” here, but I am really the one constantly growing and learning so much more about Christ-like love and joy from my many “teachers” of all different kinds here in Uganda. From the strength and dignity of my dear friends at HEAL Ministries, Rema and Grace (and their little ones), to the gratitude and unconditional love of my precious preschool students, to the joy and wisdom of my incredible co-teacher Rebecca, and most of all, to the peace and grace that only my Heavenly Father can give… I am learning from the greatest “teachers” I could ever ask for.

The Lord is so kind and has already used these past 3 weeks to humble and grow me in ways I could have never dreamed of or imagined. He has used all of these “teachers” to not only show me but walk alongside me daily as I learn different aspects of character and fruits of the spirit from each of them.

Philippians 2:1-2 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

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To start off, I had the privilege of going to visit my dear friends Rema and Grace (and their precious little ones) for lunch in Masese Slums (the largest slums in Jinja) this afternoon and am still trying to process the overwhelming joy and beauty of it all. Rema and Grace both encompass everything about the words strength and dignity, and I could go on and on about their inward and outward beauty. Rema was my dear friend from my time here last summer, and it has been incredible to have the chance to be back with her for 6 months to deepen and develop our friendship even more. Grace and I recently became close because one of her 8 children, Joshua, is in my preschool classroom, and apparently brags all the time to his friends in the village about how much his teacher, “Teacha Emily,” loves him (which I do… and yes, he goes home with stickers and prizes at the end of most days because he is so stinkin’ precious)!

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Proverbs 31: 25-26 – “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.”

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Both of these women possess the most incredible strength and dignity in all that they do. Whether they are looking after their little ones, taking care of daily tasks and chores at work, sharing all that they have with others (even a “Mzungu” like me!), or caring for others in need, they have the best outlook on life and find such beauty in the mundane, no matter what is going on around them. They are strong and full of the genuine beauty that the Lord says is beautiful.

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1 Peter 3:3-4 – “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

I pray that the Lord will continue to use these special “teachers” to grow me in these areas of strength and dignity, and that I will get to continue being able to spend such sweet time with them and their families – both at the James Place and visiting their homes in Masese.

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Now, my students. Yes, they may call me “Teacha Emily,” but really, they are the ones teaching me every single day. They teach me gratitude. They teach me unconditional love. They teach me that every day is a beautiful day that the Lord has made! I am so beyond blessed to be in their presence each and every day, and I am overwhelmed by their hugs and love each morning…and humbled that Jesus chose to use these little ones as instruments of His love for me these next 6 months.

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And seeing my students (outside of the classroom) at Kids’ Club each Saturday…where to even begin. They show me Christ’s love in ways I could never even imagine. Seeing them shine like little lights among all of the children from the local slums – The Works, Fishing Village, and Masese – and run up and embrace me upon sight as “Teacha Emily” in front of all of their friends…I can’t even put this kind of joy into words. They teach me constant and unconditional love in a way I have never experienced before, and I can’t help but think that this same loving embrace and welcome is the same way Jesus accepts me when I come running to Him for help and the love only He can give me, no matter what. I am so, so extremely grateful for these little “teachers” of unconditional love, and feel so undeserving of their constant, daily love and reminders of God’s love for us all.

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1 John 4:16 – “So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.”

Luke 15:20 – “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – (the story of the Prodigal son finally coming home to his loving, forgiving Father)

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To start off each morning in the classroom, we sing songs about Jesus and His great love for us, and then we pray. Not just a simple prayer, but a pretty extensive prayer (that all children know by heart) – praying for the Lord to bless our school, bless our teachers, bless our students, bless what we are going to eat, teach us wisdom, open our eyes and hearts to what He is trying to teach us, and the prayer continues. These children know how to pray, and most importantly, they know how to thank their Heavenly Father for the daily blessings He provides – food, water, baths, the opportunity to learn, and more. It has honestly taken the past 3 weeks for me to get used to how many times a day either I, or my co-teacher Rebecca, are told “Thank you teacher, God bless you.” Honestly, it is so humbling. And their gratitude for every little thing has really challenged me in my own walk with the Lord, and how little I time I spend thanking him for all the little things He does for me, or even more so, how many kind things others do for me each day. Gratitude is right at the heart of our Father, and he desires this in all that we do…every single day. And these students of mine are really being such “teachers” of gratitude to me.

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1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

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Now to my coteacher, Rebecca. She is joyful at all times and full of wisdom, that I am lucky enough to get to learn from throughout our time teaching our little ones together. No matter what is going on – if the power is out, if our schedule is thrown off, if one of us gets pooped or peed on by African bats (which, unfortunately, thousands of them made the James Place their home for the last 3 weeks of their migrating season) – you can always count on Rebecca to be full of joy and have the biggest smile across her face. She brings so much life and light into our lessons, and the children absolutely adore her (as do I).

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We were learning the bible story about Joseph earlier this week, and what did Rebecca do during recess to make this lesson come to life? She got herself stuck in a pile of tires and pretended to be Joseph, stuck in the pit, as the children tried for the longest time to tug and pull her out. I have never seen such joy come out of a bible story lesson, but you can always count on Rebecca to make us laugh, sing, dance, and have the best of times! I feel like I am always asking Rebecca questions, whether it is on her perspective on things, or how she handles certain situations in life and keeps her joy. All I can say is that I am learning daily wisdom from one of the absolute strongest “teachers” I know.

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Most importantly, Jesus. The greatest teacher of all. In only 3 weeks, He has been teaching me more about His peace and grace than I could’ve ever imagined.

Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

He is teaching me that HE alone is my peace. That HIS grace is all that I need. That sometimes, He has to take me away from everything comfortable for me to finally listen to what He is trying to teach me. It has been in the moments of stillness and quiet that I hear Him most, and the ways He is stretching and growing me here in Uganda are beyond anything I could’ve ever asked, or even known, to pray for. He is teaching me to come to Him FIRST – whether it is with my fears of daily transportation and trying things completely out of my comfort zone, little cuts/injuries or sicknesses pertaining to my health (because healthcare here is not the best), and that, no matter what, He is always with me and will never leave my side. He is teaching me the beautiful importance of always putting others before myself, and that sometimes, we must lower ourselves to the likeness of Christ so that HE may lift us up in his due time.

John 13: 13-17 – “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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I am so grateful for this opportunity to continue learning from the best “teachers” I could ask for during my time in Uganda. I am learning that, even though I may be known here as “Teacha Emily,” I am really the one constantly being taught – about strength, dignity, joy, love, wisdom, grace, and humility. What a sweet, sweet gift of incredible teachers that I get to learn from these next 6 months! Thanks be to God!

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2 Peter 3:18 – “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever! Amen.”  

 

“I Know You Can’t Do It, But I Can.” – Jesus

 

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Most of you have probably heard the Sunday School song that we sing each morning with my students, “Jesus Loves Me,” but have you ever really listened closely to those lyrics?

“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but HE is strong!”

I feel like the world we live in sees dependence and weakness as a bad thing, but it seems, when I read the words of Jesus in His word, that that is exactly what He desires. He not only desires a humble, childlike faith, but He loves when we confess our desperate need for Him, because, like this little Sunday School song expresses, when we are weak, HE is strong!

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

But to go even a step further, I believe that the Lord wants us to be honest with him. Express our fears. Express our vulnerability. Express our feelings. He is not looking down on us, judging us for needing Him, but rather, loves when we come to him…always welcoming us with open arms, just like a loving parent or guardian would to a child. So often, I tend to think that I have to be strong, fearless, and that I have to have it all together…but the reality is, when I am weak and can admit that I am absolutely nothing apart from Christ, He is able to do far more in and through me than I can even imagine, and show His glory and His strength through me!

In my email devotional the other day, it was talking about the apostle Paul and that, as he faced each day’s ministry burden, he bowed his head and confessed that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, he would not be able to do it. Perhaps he recalled the words of Jesus, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So he prayed for future grace for the day, and he trusted in the promise that it would come with power.

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” 

Then, he acted with all his might.

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This past week, I got pretty sick (physically) and also missed my fiancé, family, and friends a little extra – which probably had a lot to do with the physical sickness and wanting the comfort of being cared for deeply. The joy that I get from loving and serving my precious little ones at the James Place is hard to even put into words, but nights can be lonely and adjusting to a completely different culture (that will be my home for the next 6 months) can be hard and physical safety is a constant worry of mine (that I have had to lay at the feet of Jesus each morning). My life is constantly at the hands of the Lord and I have found myself praying more than I have in my entire life – on my way to and from work each day on the busy Jinja roads, finding my away around a part of the city that is completely new to me, being forced to trust complete strangers at times, and dealing with different foods and fears of sickness/infection that is never really a thought at home. After pouring my life out to the women and children at the James Place day in and day out, it can be hard to come back to our living quarters and not have any close friends or family to confide in or to even just be known. But, as the Lord always does, I am learning that Christ alone is all that I need. HE can fill me back up to keep pouring out each day. HE is my best friend. HE is the best listener and person to confide in. And most importantly, HE is my strength.

Romans 8:14-17 – “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

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When God brings us to a place where we are weak and no longer self-sufficient, He always has a purpose:  “…but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9). 

That is the very heart of the Christian message, as Paul explains in one of his letters. “Our sufficiency is not of ourselves,” he says (2 Corinthians 3:5). Through our circumstances, God teaches us not to rely on ourselves but upon him who raises the dead, who works in us to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think, according to the power at work within us.

On Thursday during the preschooler’s nap time (on the day when I was, physically, feeling the absolute worst, and, ironically, the day when this joyful picture at the top of this blog post was taken), I was sitting on the floor, listening to a song my sweet fiancé had sent me (see lyrics below), and burst into tears. I had the sweetest moment with the Lord, admitting my weakness, and how I can’t live and serve in Africa for six months, away from everyone I love, in my own strength. 

But, as soon as I admitted this to him, you know what happened?

The Lord sweetly whispered to me, “I know you can’t do it. But I can. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

At the same time the Lord gave me this sweet realization, the following lyrics and verse that came to mind felt like they were washing me over with peace:

 “Take a moment to remember, Who God is and who I am. There you go, lifting my load again.” (“Take a Moment” by United Pursuit)

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

What a blessing. Here I was, trying to mentally convince myself (in my own strength) how to make it six whole months away from all of the friends and family (and comforts) that I love, when all along, all Jesus wanted me to do was admit that I, in my own strength, can’t do it. Only HE can. Though I originally thought I was here solely for the children, God has been teaching me that His plan is soo much bigger than I can even comprehend and that He is accomplishing way more in and through this journey that I may never even see or experience the fruits from.

Proverbs 20:24 – “A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?”

This proverb is a call to recognize God’s sovereignty over our lives. God intervenes and directs our steps in ways that often become clear only after events have unfolded.

As soon as I admitted my own weakness to the Lord, it was like a covering  was lifted from my eyes. I was free to be joyful. Free to be present. Free to love each and every moment with each of my precious little ones. Yes, I miss my fiancé and loved ones each and every night (and know that I will continue to do so), but at the end of it all, what more could I want than to grow closer to Jesus and serve Him in an environment where all I have is Him – the greatest comforter of all. What greater gift could I ask for, leading up to marriage and life ahead. The more we allow Jesus to fill our needs, the better able we are to selflessly love others and put the needs of others before our own, without expecting anything else in return.

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I can’t help but think of the lyrics from one of my favorite Hillsong Worship Songs, “Christ is Enough”

“Christ is my reward

And all of my devotion

Now there’s nothing in this world

That could ever satisfy

 

Through every trial

My soul will sing

No turning back

I’ve been set free

 

Christ is enough for me

Christ is enough for me

Everything I need is in You

Everything I need.”

It is easy to read those words and say/sing them aloud, thinking we believe them in our hearts. But those words possess an entirely new meaning when you are stripped of everything and forced to rely on Christ alone, because at the end of it all, He is truly all that we have and all that we need. IMG_6219

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So, for these six months, my prayer is that the Lord will work in and through me to love and teach my students, to love my fellow Ugandan teachers, and constantly put the cross before my own desires. Whether I am here to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children, or just one precious child of God, it matters. God cares for the one and leaves the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep – every. single. time. I was that sheep, and God chose to save me. Thus, I owe my life to Him and Him alone, giving it away for the glory of God – putting HIS desires above my own.

Psalm 28:7 – “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” 

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Matthew 10:39 – “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Here’s what I’ve been learning, summed up in a few final words:

When I am weak, HE is strong.

The joy of the LORD is my strength. 

I am nothing apart from Christ. 

And as the Lord so sweetly reminded me during nap time the other day, “I know you can’t do it. But I can.” 

 

Following Jesus is worth it – even if that means being far away from the ones you love.

“Watch”-ing the Lord Provide

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Sometimes, there are moments in life that simply have no explanation other than God. Today, I had one of those moments. After telling the beautiful story to my fiancé, and other friends here in Uganda, they each encouraged me to write it out tonight so that I would never forget it…so here it is. A small story that demonstrates the power of an Almighty God!

You are probably wondering why the title of this blog is “’Watch’-ing the Lord Provide.” Well, as cheesy and punny as that title may be, that is exactly what happened to me. My dear friend Rema (who is in one of our women’s empowerment programs at HEAL Ministries to transition out of poverty, that I wrote a blog about last summer about how much she taught me in seeing possessions through the Lord’s eyes… when she gave me her nicest gold ring as a token of our friendship, knowing that that was probably the nicest “worldly possession” she owned – go check it out!), has already been used by Jesus to humble me to my very core…yet again.

I had just recently been telling the other girls, and my fiancé back at home, that I wished I had brought a watch here – so that I would be able to keep time during the school day and to track my runs (that I try to go on most days after work to pray and process through my days) in the area around our living compound. Over the past few days, sweet Wesley has been talking about sending me a watch in a package he is planning to send soon, but little did I know, the Lord had already taken care of it for me…. even this…this tiny, little, minuscule, non-important item that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

As I was leaving work at the James Place today and heading into a team meeting, Rema’s friend pulled me aside and said that Rema had a gift for me. A gift that she had been so excited to give me all weekend and wanted to make sure I got today! Rema had already left by the time I got out of the meeting, but her friend came and found me and handed me the most beautiful black, shiny gift…none other than, you can probably guess… a watch. Probably one of the nicest, if not the nicest, material possession she owned. Amid a wide range of emotions, debating whether I should take this incredibly kind gift (because I felt so guilty taking it, yet, it is completely rude in Ugandan culture to not take a gift…a gift is to be received…ironically enough…just what my blog the other day was about), I couldn’t help but realize that this beautiful watch was not just a gift from Rema, but a gift from the Lord. Rema had given me a small gold ring and several handmade bracelets last summer, but a watch…now that is something that I have never even seen for sale on the streets in Uganda. I had barely even been able to speak to Rema during lunch the other day, and definitely never mentioned to her, or anyone in the vicinity, my recent desire to have a watch during my 6 months here. Last summer, the Lord used a similar experience to remind me that our treasures should be stored up in heaven alone, but this time, He is teaching me something else as well.

Although there is nothing inherently spiritual about a simple watch, this was as pure of an example as you can find about God showing off. I had never asked, or even thought to ask, the Lord about something as silly and unimportant as a watch, but the Lord chose to use Rema to show me, in a tangible way, what He means when He says He will always provide. Jesus says in the Bible,

Matthew 6: 31-33 – “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

There is verse after verse in the Bible about God providing for the needs of His people, and though we don’t always get to see it in such a tangible way as this simple watch example, that doesn’t mean He’s not still at work, answering prayers that may not have ever left our lips. He knows them before we even speak a word. Even the ones that may seem like nothing to us. But even more so, the ones that we are crying out to him – ones for healing of loved ones, reminders that He is still there, and ones that seem impossible to even ask for. God will always provide exactly what we need, exactly when we need it, whether we have been able to verbalize and voice those needs or not. I hope this small example means as much to you as it did to me…and I hope you are encouraged in whatever God is calling you to do, wherever that may be!

2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

The picture on the right is the only picture I have of Rema, from last summer. But now, her little son Elijah is a whole year older and Rema is just as radiant (inside and out!) as always! 

Sweetly Broken, Wholly Surrendered

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Jesus is good. So, so good. That has been the theme of my life– through every season – and will be the theme of these next 6 months in Jinja, Uganda. I arrived at the Entebbe Airport late Sunday night, rode on a bus through the night (through Kampala and other Ugandan towns) to Jinja, and have officially been here for a week now. Having been here last summer, I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect. But in the short week I have been here, I have already seen, learned, and experienced things that I never even encountered last time. Life in Jinja is thriving and busy, with people driving bodas and selling chipati and other yummy street food every corner you turn, but life here is no different than life at home – ever-changing and yet surprisingly the same all at once.

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It has been mind-blowing to see some of the same children I fell in love with last summer already a whole year older – with blooming personalities and new haircuts, some of them in school for the very first time (praise the Lord – who hears and answers our prayers)!

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I was able to have some of the sweetest reunions with some of my Ugandan staff friends at HEAL Ministries, as well as my dear friend Rema, who is in one of our women’s programs here, and her precious son, Elijah, who is no longer a baby, but a walking and active little one now! And yesterday, at our weekly Saturday Kid’s Club Outreach Program (my favorite part of the week), I was able to see and rejoice with so many of my little friends (from the local slums and nearby villages) from last summer as we danced, played, sang, the children were fed, given a drink of water, had their hands and arms washed, heard the gospel, and left with a memory verse to study and bring back next week for a “sweetie” (the name for a lollipop over here). I can’t even put into words the joy it has brought me that so many of these same children are now able to attend the James Place Preschool (many of whom are in my class now!) during the week, due to the Lord’s provision through generous donors and answered prayers that led to the school expansion this past year. This whole week at school has just been such a reminder of how beautifully God has been at work during my time teaching in South Carolina this past year, and it has been such a sweet, sweet gift to be able to come back and teach alongside my wonderful Ugandan teacher friends and have my same students (and many new little faces from Kids’ Club due to our scholarship program!) in my preschool classroom.

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It’s been so incredible to be back with HEAL Ministries with people who have left a forever impact on my heart, and so incredibly humbling that the Lord has seen it fit to call me to spend half of a year back in this special place before I marry my incredibly supportive and encouraging fiancé, Wesley Mabry, and start a whole new life serving Jesus with him. In the midst of so many sweet reunions and joyful moments, I have been so sweetly reminded, as I mentioned above, of God’s goodness and grace. If you had told me 5 or even 2 years ago that I would be serving 6 months in Uganda, working with vulnerable women and children, while being engaged to the love of my life on the other side of the world, I would have told you that you were completely crazy! It’s funny, though, how God’s timing works…and how sovereign He is in piecing our lives together and creating us “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  And for that, I am grateful. Last summer while I was serving in Uganda, I was healing from some things that had happened in my own life leading up to coming here, and experienced Jesus’ love and grace through the eyes of the women and children here like never before in my life.

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Sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.

          I believe when we truly know how broken we are apart from the love of Christ, we are able to most fully experience His overwhelming grace and surrender our lives to Him to the fullest capacity. And, as I first-hand experienced and learned this last summer, the Lord was able to work in and through me like never before. At Amazima Church this morning (the church at the school Katie Davis Majors from Kisses from Katie founded), the pastor spoke about gratitude and said that “when we really feel like we received a gift we did not deserve, we will constantly show our gratefulness to the giver.” In this case, the giver is obviously God, and our life is a gift. He talked about how we are to live out of our gratitude and that true followers of Jesus know how undeserving they are of the grace of God! Gratefulness comes from grace. Grace comes from knowing how undeserving we are. Thus, gratitude is a humble response to grace.

Ephesians 2:8 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

2 Corinthians 9:11-12 – “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous in every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”

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I am filled with gratitude as I am called to spend these next 6 months teaching, serving, and loving on so many of God’s precious children, but even more so, filled with gratitude for the life God has given me. God’s saving grace is a gift. One I could never earn or deserve. Jesus deserves our gratefulness, and calls us to live our lives humbly devoted to Him alone. Even in the midst of transitioning to a new culture and on the nights when I am missing home and those that I love so much that it hurts, I am comforted by the saving arms of Jesus Christ and the love that only He can give. When there is no one else or nothing else to provide us worldly comfort, Jesus is still there. What a gift.

When we realize how sweetly broken we are, we are able to wholly surrender our lives to our precious Jesus, and experience the fullness of life Jesus talks about in John 10:10 –

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

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(in the picture above, you can see that we got to learn about “Teacha Emily’s” home country on July 4th…and we had a blast putting together our American Flag Craft!)

 

To God be ALL the Glory!

“God Loves You, And I Love You, That’s The Way It Should Be…”

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             In writing my final blog post, I have been trying to process what all I have learned during my time here at The James Place. Instead of trying to come up with one word or instance to encompass every small moment that I have been blessed with over this whole month, I am instead blown away with how many things God has taught me through the eyes of women and children who know what it means to love God and love others.

“God loves you, and I love you, that’s the way it should be…” – these are the main verses of our favorite song to sing in “Baby Class” here at The James Place. We sing it first in English, and then a second time in Luganda (and surprisingly, I have finally mastered the words in Luganda…which the children always love to giggle at me trying). We have made up hand movements to go along with all of the verses, and the children light up the room with their joyful faces whenever we sing it during morning songs time (as you can see in the picture below).

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Yes, this song is absolutely precious and simple for anyone to learn, but when you really look at the lyrics, it actually encompasses exactly what the Christian faith is supposed to be about. I have always believed that our most important calling in life is to love God and love others. If we truly love God, and understand the incredible amount of grace and mercy He has for us, it is impossible for us not to spread that love to others around us.

Mark 12:30-31 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

            I have been incredibly blessed to have spent the past month here at The James Place, working as a Pre-School Intern for HEAL Ministries. The James Place is a tiny glimpse of what I believe heaven will be like one day, and as we sing in our favorite song, “the way it should be.” While women in our artisan and business program are working or in school, we provide pre-school and childcare for the children so that they can truly focus on what they are learning. All of the staff and interns play a very specific role in making the whole place run seamlessly, and I have been able to truly see the beauty in watching others serve with the unique gifts God has given them. But regardless of our specific role (whether that is in pre-school, childcare, women’s programs, marketing, social work, etc.), we are all working towards the same mission. This is exactly “the way it should be,” as we use our different gifts to make up the different parts of the body of Christ.

Romans 12:4-5 – “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

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Every morning as I greet the women and children, I can’t help but light up because of the immense amount of joy they bring in each and every day. There is something very special about The James Place…it feels like home to any and everyone. Not only does it provide a safe haven for women and children, but through the programs and support provided to them here, they leave empowered and ready to take on whatever life throws their way. Those who walk through the gates of The James Place every day have had far from easy lives, but their joy despite their circumstances is inspiring to everyone lucky enough to get to know them. Whenever any of us talk to the women about how we admire their strength, they immediately correct us and say that their strength is not their own, but from God. Our preschool children even made stone necklaces last week to remind us all that Christ is our rock, the one we can always depend on for our strength (1 Corinthians 10:4)! It is so humbling to hear those words from my friends here who are truly living out childlike faith, trusting God to provide and be with them every step of their journey. As the lyrics of our pre-school song demonstrate, this is exactly “the way it should be.”

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Psalm 18:1-2 – “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

The whole time I have been living here at The James Place, the verse hanging above our living quarters has been such a good reminder and inspiration to me as I wake up and begin work each day, and such a perfect depiction of the way our time spent in this life “should be.”

Philippians 2: 1-4 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”

My coteachers, Rebecca and Joanne, who have taught me the true meaning of being servant-hearted. My dear friend Rema (who is currently in the artisan program here), who has shown me what it looks like to place value in things above, not of this world. My precious preschoolers, who have taught me an entirely new meaning of joy-filled, childlike faith in Jesus. And the interns and staff here at The James Place, who have demonstrated what it looks like to be the body of Christ. Through every single person I have been lucky enough to get to know, I have seen and learned a different aspect of the way things can and should be, when we love God and humbly place the interests of others before ourselves. Yes, I have had the chance to love and serve others, but even more so, I have been loved and blessed beyond measure by the relationships I have developed during my time here.

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IMG_3937            As heartbroken as I am to be leaving The James Place tomorrow and head back to America, I am leaving with a deeper faith in the Lord and with unforgettable memories with unforgettable people that have forever changed my life.

 

Jinja, Uganda, you have stolen my heart.

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Education is the Most Powerful Tool Which You Can Use to Change the World

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”– Nelson Mandela

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Being a teacher back in the states, as well as currently in Jinja, Uganda, I am a firm believer in the power of education. It is so vitally important for children to learn the basics at a young age so that they are not only “on track” going into the rest of their schooling, but are able to truly excel in primary school and beyond! Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a cross-stitch (given to me by my Aunt, a former North Carolina educator) hanging in my room with the following Chinese proverb written on it:

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant tress; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate children.”

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The little children I have had the incredible opportunity to teach and spend my days with over the last month have shown such a zest and joy for learning new things, and I can’t help but smile with joy as they get their letters, shapes, colors, and numbers right! They are growing each and every day, not just because of the teachers, but because of their deep appreciation for education that has been instilled in them by the culture around them. Just like the wonderful school I work at back in America, the expectations are extremely high for the children here. In the 3-year olds class (“Baby Class,” as the locals call it), the students are expected to be able to know all of their shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and be able to write their names before moving up to “Top Class.” When children are held to a high expectation, they will rise to the challenge. Being here and learning from the wonderful teachers at The James Place, I have been so inspired to raise my own expectations even higher for my students at home.

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Besides learning the sweetest songs and dances during our “wiggle breaks,” I have had the joy to help plan and teach small groups pertaining to numbers, shapes, colors, and name writing. Even though the language barrier can definitely be an issue at times, it has been so much fun to teach them these concepts through various games and hands-on activities. When we made homemade play dough for the kids to make shapes out of, they had an absolute blast! And today, we had the students go on a letter hunt around the room to find the matching upper and lowercase letters.

I think the best part of all, though, is that a majority of the “learning” that takes place here doesn’t even happen in the classroom. Tomorrow, we are going to do a shape walk around the James Place to look for everyday examples of rectangles, circles, triangles, and more! But even more so, I believe that children learn best from one another. Every day during play time, as I watch them filling different sized containers with sand, making scribbles in the dirt with sticks, and racing tires across the red dirt together, I am in awe at how much they are learning on their own through simple exploration.

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I know that this has been a very educational-based blog post, but I just feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend the past month here learning from teachers and students who not only value academics, but value the importance of finding joy in the little things and, most importantly, in the Lord. With a mixture of high expectations, a joyful classroom climate, and plenty of time for the little ones to play in the dirt and explore outside, nothing other than magic can occur. Jesus loved the little children, and so should we. They are the future of our world and little sponges that are just waiting to soak up knowledge and experiences!

“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

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Below is a picture of the incredible teachers I have been able to work with the past few weeks, Rebecca and Joanne. They are two of the most kind and selfless women I have ever met, and spent the majority of last week helping me make banana fiber angel dolls for all of my future students this year in South Carolina.

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