“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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Making Every Moment Matter

IMG_1049.jpg“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.” (Katie Davis)

Just wanted to start this blog post with my favorite quote from one of my favorite books, Kisses from Katie, because I feel like it sums up exactly how I feel going into my last week of serving here in Jinja, Uganda. I have truly fallen in love with Jinja and all of the people here and am determined to make every moment matter these last few days. Whether I am pushing a little one on the swings or teaching the preschoolers their ABCS, it matters. Every moment matters, because every person I get to spend time with, serve with, learn from, and interact with, matters.

Throughout the last few weeks here at The James Place, I have had the wonderful opportunity to befriend and get to know some pretty amazing women and children. The fact that I have been here for less than a month completely blows my mind. In my short amount of time here, I have watched babies gradually learn how to walk, preschoolers grasp their letters and colors, and women leave work each day hand in hand with their children because of the family preservation that is taking place here. When you walk into the gates of The James Place, you can truly feel James 1:27 coming to life (hence the name):

James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Although I came to Uganda knowing I would get the chance to love on and build relationships with sweet, precious little ones, I had no idea of the depths and types of friendships I would develop with so many of the mothers and staff members here at HEAL Ministries. Here at HEAL, we get the opportunity to empower vulnerable, abandoned women and children in Christ-centered programs that teach sustainability and family preservation. Essentially, the women involved in our program are able to develop the skills and experience they need in order to support themselves as well as their little ones (who are being taught, cared for, and loved while the women are in classes/training). I know this verse is thrown around out of context a lot, but the women here truly embody the meaning of Proverbs 31:25. Not only do they possess strength and dignity, but also they are grounded completely and totally in Christ, and thus, refuse to let any of their circumstances or hardships take that away from them.

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Proverbs 31:25 – “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”

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Every day, in between taking care of babies and preschoolers, I always look forward to spending time with my sweet friend, Rema—the woman who I met early on during my time here that generously gave me her copper ring as a gift to represent our friendship. Rema lives in one of the largest slums in Jinja, Masese, and walks a very long distance each day to bring her sweet baby, Elijah, to her favorite place in the world – The James Place. She is part of the artisan program and is currently learning how to make beautiful necklaces and rugs that she hopes to sell one day in her own shop. Her precious little baby, Elijah, is such a mama’s boy, but has slowly began to let me hold him and care for him during parts of the day while his mama is hard at work (but of course we go by often to tell mama hello because he misses her so much). Rema can speak little English, but it has been so much fun to catch up during our days and share what God is teaching us. The sweetest moment was when Rema heard me singing a song about Jesus in Luganda (that one of my Ugandan coteachers, Rebekah, had taught me earlier that day), and started singing it to Elijah along with me. She looked at me with such joy in her eyes, as she could understand exactly what I was speaking, in her own native language. It was a moment I will never forget, and such special lyrics to be united on – “God loves you, and I love you. That’s the way it should be!”

 

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My Ugandan coteacher, Joanne, invited me to walk to her home after work earlier this week so that we could chop banana fibers together to make little angel dolls for my upcoming students this year back at Meeting Street Academy. After trekking through the banana trees, we spent the rest of the evening in her humble, one-room home sipping on African Tea and peanut butter sandwiches she prepared for us. Joanne is the same age as me, 23, and though we live in completely different parts of the world, it has been so special to develop such a deep, lasting friendship with one another, united over our shared love for teaching preschool and loving on little ones. Like all Ugandan women I have met, Joanne has taught me the true meaning of being hospitable and servant-hearted. She cares for her nieces, nephews, and friends’ children like they are her own, and invites any and everyone into her humble place and treats them like kings and queens. As we sat on her bed (because that is the only furniture in the whole space) and sipped on our tea, two more little children came to her doorstep and she welcomed them in, making them tea and sandwiches as well.

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My other Ugandan coteacher, Rebekah, is another woman who has made such a profound impact on my life. We have spent the past few weeks learning from and bouncing ideas off of one another as we plan for preschool each day. She keeps telling me how much of a blessing I have been to her and the preschool program here, but I keep telling her how much of a blessing it is to watch her joyfully teach her students day in and day out about not only how to read and write, but about how much Jesus loves them. My favorite part of each day is hearing the children say their prayers and their morning songs, consisting of multiple verses in both English and Luganda that talk about God’s love for them. I have talked to the other preschool interns and we have come to the consensus that, when our little ones sing about Jesus, it can be described in no other way but “heavenly.” I have picked up on all of the verses that are spoken in English, but have yet to grasp all of the verses in Luganda. Luckily, Rebekah patiently spends our time out in the play area teaching me the Luganda verses and their meaning –thus resulting in me singing new songs all day long so that I can remember them. The children giggle and smile at me when they hear me attempting to sing in Luganda, but it is the best feeling when I get a verse right and see other little heads turn around with giant grins because I am speaking their native language.

It has been such a blessing as well to develop relationships with the fellow interns as we have worked together, served together, and grown closer to Christ together. Not to mention, the unforgettable moments of going on a safari together and seeing the Nile River during out time off. IMG_4017.jpg            In addition, it has been such a blessing to have my intern family alongside me this past week as we faced a water shortage, rat infestation, and power outage (power went out in all of Uganda for 4 hours). Not to mention, a few of the interns got jiggers (parasites) in their feet that, luckily, our Ugandan staff member friends are experts at getting out. Although these all seem like predicaments, these situations bonded us way closer together and led us to develop our new favorite catchphrase – T.I.A. (This is Africa).

 

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But, as anyone who knows me could tell you, it is the children who have stolen my heart forever. When you are working with little children day in and day out, it is the little moments that you cherish. The moment when you get to take a child swimming for the first time (we took all of the preschoolers swimming at a local pool the other day). The moment when a crying baby falls fast asleep in your arms (captured in the picture at the beginning of this post). The moment when you see a little girl, who used to never smile, laugh and giggle uncontrollably while pushing her on the swing. The moment when you learn how to say, “I love you” to a child in Luganda, and she immediately says it back. The moment when you see children joyfully dancing and playing under a giant parachute. The moment when you see your students’ faces light up when you tell them they get to make their shapes with homemade play dough. The moment when a shy little toddler raises his hands up to you after bath time, waiting for you to carry him across the red dirt to the napping room (so he doesn’t get his little feet dirty). And the moment every day, after helping them put on their shoes, that your students tell you “Thank you teacher, God bless you.”

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When people ask me how my day was each day, I have nothing other to say than, “It was amazing.” I could go on and on with all of the little moments that make every day an amazing day here, but I think so much of it has to do with the mindset everyone here has to make every moment matter. Whether I am with a staff member, fellow intern, woman in the program, or little child, our conversations and moments together matter. I hope and pray that I will be back here in Jinja sooner rather than later, but without knowing what the future holds, I believe in making the most of every moment I have this last week, because every moment truly does matter to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:22-23 – “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

“Whatever you are doing, no matter how many times you have done something similar before, you are not doing the same old thing. You are doing something new, something that has never been done before and will never be done again. We always exist in the new and always do what’s new.” ~Desiring God Devotional

 

Every Child Deserves the Chance to Be a Kid

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This blog post is a few days late, but that is because I have been processing all that has taken place these past few days. HEAL Ministries hosts “Kids Club” every Saturday, where they open the property gates and welcome anywhere from 400-600 children each week (mostly coming from the two of the largest slums in Jinja – Masese and The Works) to The James Place where they essentially get the chance to be a kid and run around, dance, sing, eat, wash their bodies, and learn about Jesus’ immense love for them.

The hour or so before it is time for Kids Club to begin, there are lines and lines of children waiting outside the gate, overjoyed with excitement about coming inside to be loved and given the chance to play and just simply enjoy childhood. The children ranged all ages—from very young babies (strapped to the backs of young adolescent older sisters) to teenagers. No matter what age the child was, it was the same look on each of their faces as they walked through the gates of The James Place—hope for something better ahead. In this particular moment, it was hope for a fun, joy-filled day playing, eating, and learning more about Jesus through bible stories and songs. But in a deeper sense, you could see the hope in their eyes that there had to be something better out there for them…someplace, somewhere. And in this world we are living in, that hope is Jesus and the life he promises in Heaven. For many of these children, they live in constant fear of hunger, death, and having to be the head of a household (or even just of siblings) at an age that no child is ready to bear. You could tell by watching the older siblings care for and protect their younger siblings (after walking and carrying many of them miles to get here) that they have responsibilities at home that I, and most people I know, could have never imagined taking on at that age…let alone any age of our lives. When I say my heart broke on this day, I mean it in the best way possible. My heart broke for these children in the fact that they are being forced to grow up and lose their childhood at an age no child should ever have to do. But in reality, this is happening all over the world, and right in our own neighborhoods as well (as well as in the lives of many children I teach back in South Carolina).

With all of that to say, I was not only heart-broken on this day, but also completely in awe at the Lord’s love and care for these children, in that he knows and understands the pain and suffering they are enduring in this lifetime, but that through the death of His son, these children are going to be with Him in perfect peace one day. They will be living in a place with no more pain, no more suffering, and no more tears. They will get to be kids the way God intended for them to be able to be, before the brokenness of our world came in and oppressed such beautiful, innocent, little ones as these.

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.”

Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

As I played with precious little ones on the swings, in the tree house, and with tires (a local favorite toy) in the red dirt, I felt the Lord’s presence in a way I have never quite felt it before. It can be so easy to feel so overwhelmed and helpless when poverty and infrastructure issues that seem almost unfixable are surrounding you. But when I think about Jesus and his heart for the poor, the needy, and the humble, I am reminded that, more than anywhere, He makes his presence known among these little ones and promises He will never leave their side.

Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
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I felt this reassurance from Him reminding me that I, little Emily, will never be able to solve world hunger or eliminate poverty…but I CAN love. And not only love, but I can love big and show Christ’s love to every single one of these children for every single second I get to spend with them. I can laugh with them, smile with them, serve them an adequate meal and water, wash their little hands and feet (and sores all over their bodies), and use safety pins and hair ties to fix oversized, torn shirts and other clothing items. I can love in a tangible way, with action, rather than with just words. It is one thing to tell someone, “Jesus loves you,” but it is another thing to actually act on these words and show that love.

1 John 3:18 – “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

Matthew 25:35 – “For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes.”

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During the hours upon hours of laughter, joy, dancing, playing soccer, hugging and sitting with these little children as they ate, bathed, and learned about Jesus, I could feel the love of Christ surrounding us. In the presence of these perfect, wonderful little angels, I saw Jesus and experienced a taste of what I believe heaven will be like one day. He is real and his love is undeniable. These little ones know for a fact that Jesus loves them and have absolutely nothing (from a worldly, materialistic standpoint) on this Earth to show for. Their hope is not swayed by circumstances, but grounded in the unchanging truth that is set in their hearts.

Jeremiah 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.”

As Kids Club came to an end, we all gathered together on a giant orange tarp and were led in prayer by a local Ugandan woman named Mother Ruth (beloved by all the children in the area). She prayed over the children and, at the end, asked them to raise their hands if they had decided to accept Jesus into their hearts. Before she was even done talking, I peeked my eyes open and saw hundreds and hundreds of little hands rising into the air. It was so humbling to see the incredible faith of these precious babies and it inspired my own faith as a result.

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As we said goodbye at the end and showered the children with little bible stories and goodies as they walked out the gate through the “tunnel of love” (a human tunnel created by staff and interns at The James Place), it was unbelievably hard to watch them leave. I left my heart with these children and cannot wait to see them back next Saturday, as well as around town the rest of my time here. It is still so hard to even comprehend all of these feelings and what I am learning from the people here in Jinja about faith and life, but I think that’s the way it is sometimes…your heart breaks the way God’s heart breaks for His people. As I mentioned above, I don’t have the answers to the world’s greatest issues. In my own strength, I can do nothing to really make a difference here. But because of Christ in me, I can love and love BIG, with words backed by action…and continue to do that back in South Carolina (until if and when God calls me back to Uganda). And while I am here in Uganda, I am so lucky to be working for an organization that has labored years upon years to confront poverty head-on through their mission statement of empowering vulnerable, abandoned women and children in Christ-centered programs that teach sustainability and family preservation.

After Kids Club this Saturday, we woke up Sunday morning and went to a local church called Worship Harvest before getting back to our normal work schedule today—pre-school, play time, childcare, meals, baths, crafts, laundry, and chores. Being a pre-school intern here at HEAL Ministries this summer has taught me so much about truly loving and empowering the women and children here in Jinja, Uganda, and earning their trust and respect so that you can truly make an impact in a community overall. I have learned that being a pre-school teacher and loving on little children is a gift that the Lord has given me, but that it takes so much more to truly impact a community. And in the few weeks I have been here so far, I am so thankful to be a very small part of a really awesome thing God is doing through HEAL Ministries here in Jinja, Uganda. All glory to Him!

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This precious little baby is the son of the local staff woman who cooks daily meals for everyone here. I love getting to hold and tend to him during childcare…he is truly a babydoll! Let’s just say I spend a lot of time with him every day! 🙂

 

To See Through the Eyes of Another

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Today was just one of those days that can be described as nothing other than a gift. People always talk about instances of having “God moments,” but it is something totally different when you realize God is in the midst of every beautiful person and thing around you.

James 1:17 – “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.”

This morning in pre-school, we made angel dolls out of “banana fibers” (dried banana tree leaves) that Rebecca and Joann (the wonderful local teachers I get to work with) got from a banana plantation nearby. These dolls are often sold in little street shops and are loved by all the children, so Joann decided we should make some of our own! To say the children were excited would be an understatement…they were basically jumping out of their seats because they couldn’t wait to get started. After Joann modeled how to make one by tearing and tying the banana fibers in various ways, she separated the children into small groups and we worked with them to make their beautiful dolls. The joy in the eyes of the children as they created and held their precious dolls was absolutely beautiful. To someone who didn’t know, these “dolls” looked like bundled up dead leaves. But to these children, these dolls were angels and a complete treasure to be cherished. The children got to play with their dolls and then decided we should hang them up in the front of the classroom so that they could “watch over our class.”

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A little while later in the day, I was out playing in the red dirt with the babies when I saw Joann sitting with a crowd of children around her. I immediately walked over towards here to see why the children had such a look of amazement on their faces. As I sat down next to them, I realized Joann was making the children little “airplanes” to play with out of torn magnolia tree leaves and small sticks. Joann would tell the children to find a leaf and a stick, and then she would “magically” turn them into the cherished toy. I couldn’t help but sit and watch with pure joy as these little ones would run off with their leaf and stick “airplanes” like they were holding the most valuable toy in the world. As one child ran off into the play area with their airplane, another two or three children would run to Joann to get their own new toy…as you can see, word spreads fast! Just like the banana fiber angel dolls, these “airplanes” would simply look like torn leaves and sticks to someone who didn’t know. But to these children, these airplanes were “magical” and something that can provide infinite fun and joy.

Every Friday here at The James Place, all of the women, children, and staff come together to praise and worship Jesus, do a prayer walk around the property, and have a bible study. It was beautiful beyond words to see all of the women (and children) raise their hands, clap and sing for joy as they worshiped the Lord in Luganda (their native language). During the prayer walk around the property, I watched from behind (while holding the hands of two of the youngest children at HEAL) as the women sang, prayed and clapped with the most incredible amount of joy, asking God to bless HEAL Ministries and all of the widows and children that walk through the gates each day. Knowing a lot of the individual women’s stories here, I know that they possess little to no material possessions and definitely have not had it easy in this world. But to see their pure love, joy and devotion to God as they came and worshiped Him together, praising him for all that He has done in their lives and will continue to do, I knew that this had to be a glimpse of what Heaven is going to look like one day.

After the prayer walk, various local staff members led the women (who daily attend our business and artisan classes to learn skills they can take out into the community) in a Bible study. During this time, it was so encouraging to see the humble faith and incredible inner strength of all of the women from the local slums who are in artisan and business classes here at HEAL. We couldn’t speak the same language, but through holding hands, giving hugs, and smiling at one another while reading over the word of God, I could just feel Jesus’ love through these women. The woman leading our group’s study could translate little parts into English, and I realized that they were reading over verses in the Bible having to do with idolatry…and they talked about how when we go off God’s path and worship idols (whatever they may be), it weakens our prayer life and makes it hard to feel close to God.

I just so happened to sit next to a woman named Rema during the Bible study and helped her hold and tend to her precious baby, Elijah, the whole time. We prayed together, held hands, and praised Jesus in two different languages, but yet I felt so close to her and we had a connection that words can’t even explain. I had told her earlier that her ring was beautiful, and then at the end of the bible study as we were saying goodbye, she grabbed my hand and put the ring on my finger. As much as I tried to kindly refuse and tell her that I was so humbled but that I wanted her to keep her beautiful ring, she was absolutely adamant that I keep it as a gift and told me in broken English, “I want you…wear as way…show friendship.” To me, this little copper ring seemed like what may have been one of her most valuable possessions. But in her eyes, this ring was nothing more than a material item that she wanted to give to someone else as a blessing. I couldn’t believe her kindness and her lack of love for material possessions, especially after just listening to a Bible study pertaining to idols. It hit me that I can’t imagine handing my own ring (that I wear back in the United States) to someone who complimented me on it. It was so humbling to see and befriend someone who obviously has her priorities straight and places little to no value in the “things” of this world.

After Bible study, it was time for lunch, nap time (for the children), chores, and teacher planning. Right before it was time to wake the kids up from nap, it started pouring down rain. We all immediately ran to the clothesline to pull our clothes off and scrambled to find random places inside our living quarters to hang them to dry (the reality of not having a washer and dryer). And since the ground here at The James Place consists of pure red dirt, we were told to let the kids remain in the “Gecko house” (where they potty and nap) until the rain stopped (so as to avoid having them all be completely covered in red mud). When the rain looked like it wasn’t going to be stopping anytime soon, we decided to let the preschoolers (the “big kids” here at HEAL Ministries) have a rainy movie day. But when you don’t have a TV to watch a movie on, you have to get creative…so we borrowed the computer of another intern and set it up as a movie screen in the “top class” room. The children had to be extra quiet so that they could hear the movie from the tiny laptop, but it worked and they loved every minute of it! It doesn’t take much to make a child happy, and today was full of little reminders of how simple life really needs to be.

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It was an amazing day full of seeing Jesus in the eyes of so many women and children and I am grateful for every lesson God is teaching me while I am here. I truly believe that I saw Jesus in the eyes of both my preschoolers, as they made treasures out of the ordinary, and Rema, as she placed her beautiful copper ring on my finger. As I said above, I am learning that instead of focusing on so-called “God moments,” I can choose to look for God in all of the beautiful everyday things that are right before my eyes.

Colossians 3:2 – “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Philippians 4:8 – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

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A Birthday To Remember

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Getting to spend my birthday across the world in Jinja, Uganda was a true gift. Everyday, I am trying to soak in every smile, every laugh, and every opportunity I get to spend learning from and loving on the women and children here at The James Place. But especially today, being treated as the “birthday princess” by all of the little ones, my heart was filled in a way that words can’t even begin to describe. There were so many moments of feeling loved and cared for by not only the people I am doing life with here in Uganda, but by our Heavenly father as He spoke to me through little moments throughout the day.

In our pre-school class this morning, the students surprised me and sang the sweetest “happy birthday” song after saying their morning prayers. It meant so much to be celebrated by these little ones who barely even know me, but care so much about my birthday that they made me wear a birthday sticker all day to “show off” my big day. When you are little, you are truly a princess when it is your birthday…and working with so many children here in Jinja, my birthday princess sticker made me a pretty cool kid during playtime.

As sweet as it was for them to sing “happy birthday” to me, my favorite moment of the day had to be when we all sang my two favorite songs in the world—“This Little Light of Mine” and “Jesus Loves Me.” No matter where I am in the world or what language the children speak, these two songs always seem to resonate and bring an unspeakable amount of joy into the eyes of children as they sing them. Children shine so much light to the world and it just makes my heart so happy to hear them say the words, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” because I believe that this is what our world needs more of…people willing to shine bright for what they believe in! And to hear them sing, “Jesus Loves Me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, we are weak but He is strong,” it almost brought me to tears because of how simple Jesus’ love really is…He loves us and all we have to do is believe it and love him back, no matter how weak or small we may feel in this giant world. Jesus calls us to have childlike faith and to be lights in this world, and I can’t think of any better way to learn than by imitating the love and joy of these little children.

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As the day went on, I helped with the daily chores of feeding, washing dishes/laundry, and bathing the kids. During nap time, I spent time planning with the local teachers and they made what seemed like a tedious task into such a fun couple of hours. We were working on cleaning out the pre-school supply closet, and had 5 people cramped into a tiny space, somehow trying to make organization happen in the midst of a giant mess. Little by little, we made some progress, and Rebecca and Joanne (the Ugandan teachers I work alongside), made sure we were laughing and enjoying ourselves the whole time by cracking jokes (that half the time I didn’t understand, which made them funnier), bringing us fresh pineapple slices (that they sneaked from their friends on the kitchen staff), and best of all, by using some of the art supplies to make me a giant birthday crown (that I was forced to wear on top of my head the rest of the day).

After tutoring and reading to the kids for the remainder of the afternoon, our workday came to an end and my fellow interns surprised me with a walk to dinner at a Pizzeria down the road to celebrate my birthday (it was so weird to have something other than rice and beans!). I was able to have the best conversation with my fellow interns at dinner, talking all about Jesus and reflecting on what all he has done in our lives this past year. After sharing and listening to one another’s stories, it was so fitting to come home to the following devotion about Psalm 73 that I happened to read during my quiet time –

“There is nothing that compares to walking in a relationship with God, knowing his presence, his guidance and his strength, and his promise that he will take you into glory. When you see what you have been rescued from, you realize how good it is to be near God (v. 28), and you want to pass the good news on to others: ‘But I’m in the very presence of God—oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord God my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do!’ (v. 28, MSG).

Today was a birthday I will always remember, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent it than with precious little ones here in Jinja, Uganda. We serve a good father who knows the desires of our hearts, and he is a giver of good, good gifts! I think when Jesus said to “humble yourself like a child,” He just wanted us to set free the desires of our hearts that we may have lost along the way as we grew up and “matured.” My time here thus far has shown me how important it is for us to follow after these little ones and run to the Lord’s feet with unreserved faith…and so much more!

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Exploring the Ugandan Safari from the Top of a Van

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On our 12 hour road trip from Jinja to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, I was taken away by the simplicity and beauty of so many of the little towns we passed through along the way. Our amazing trip and safari driver, Wilson, is (I believe) one of the most knowledgeable locals in all of Uganda, and he was able to tell me everything I wanted to know about every single place we passed. Uganda is a truly beautiful country full of even more beautiful people and I am soaking in every second of being here!IMG_3222.jpg

Upon arriving to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Wilson “snuck” us into some areas he knew where we could “see a lot of game” before the actual “game drive” the next day. We were lucky enough to see a whole herd of zebras (up super close!) as well as elephants crossing the dirt road directly in front of us!IMG_3196

The next day, we got up super early and watched the sunrise over the Uganda savanna…a truly breathtaking sight. Wilson even let us sit on top of the van for the safari and we got to have the best view of all as we saw all kinds of African animals – zebras, elephants, lions, baboons, chimpanzees, and more!

After that, we got to take a water tour on a tugboat through the lakes to see tons of hippos, water buffalo, crocodiles, elephants, and more!

To make the day even more wonderful, we stopped the van on the side of a dirt road and watched the sun set over the savanna. The remainder of the trip home, we sat on top of the van (our favorite place to be) and stared in awe at the stars covering the sky.

On our trip home, Wilson wanted to show us a few of his favorite towns and spots along the way home. We got to explore Fort Portal (a part of the Torro kingdom – where he is originally from) and even tour the King’s palace! I found out today that this king, King Oyo, is apparently the youngest kind in the world…so cool! We also got to see stunning views of the Crater Lakes (which apparently are a result of Volcanic eruptions many years ago) and hike through some beautiful caves and waterfalls in the area.

It was an amazing way to spend the long weekend and get to know the other interns! I am thankful for this opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation and fall even more in love with the beautiful country of Uganda!

 

Colossians 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

(PS…I have tried many times to upload more photos onto this blog, but the internet is soo bad here and it won’t let me! I will try again later to put up more of the pictures of the safari if it gets better)!

“Thank you teacher, God bless you”

CHVX1707          Today was my first day getting to work in the preschool classroom and it was a truly amazing experience. As soon as all of the children had walked in and found their little seats, the teacher had one child lead the others in a prayer where they asked God to bless their families, their teachers, their learning, to feed the hungry and to heal the sick. I can’t even begin to explain how beautiful it was to watch 16 little heads bow down with their tiny hands together as I heard the most precious voices praying out loud to God. I fell in love with the children right then and feel so blessed that I get to spend the next few weeks with them.

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I couldn’t help but watch in awe as the local Ugandan women taught the little children their shapes, numbers, and colors in such a unique way! I am so excited to continue to work alongside these women and learn even more teaching tricks and ideas from them. Just like back at home, there are wiggly students and giggly students, quiet students and social butterflies, but it is this diversity of students that makes for such a fun class and sharing of ideas! After the Ugandan teachers led the students in various songs and chants, they reviewed letters, numbers, and shapes and then split the children into small groups. I had the best time leading a small group on shapes where I had the children try and build the shapes out of pipe cleaners I had brought! The children loved getting to bend and twist the pipe cleaners into various shapes and show them off to the teachers! At the end of small group time, the children did a craft for the last 15 minutes where they got to string pony beads onto a pipe cleaner—a great way for the children to work on their fine motor skills to make their hands extra strong for writing. When it was time for snack and play time (and the majority of their academic time was done for the day), the students walked to the door to put on their shoes (in Uganda, you always go barefoot inside) and told every teacher “Thank you teacher, God bless you” (with their precious accents) before walking outside to play. To the other teachers, this was completely normal, but to me, I was just taken away at their love and respect for me that I had not even earned yet. Once again, my heart melted and I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.

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I think the most interesting aspect of it all, though, was how similar three and four year old children can be on completely different sides of the world. Just like my students back in South Carolina, the children here are full of such childlike joy and innocence that completely affirms what I have always believed about children—that they are the light of the world and who Jesus values as most important of all. As it says in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” For me, I always feel the closest to Jesus when I am with young children—their childlike faith and joy for the little things in life is what I think we, as adults, should strive to be more like.

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The rest of the day consisted of lunch, bathing the children, naptime, planning (see the picture above…hand copying everything), a giant rainstorm, and more playing outside. Life is so simple here and allows you time to truly get to know everyone around you. Everyone here works together to get all of the chores done—from the laundry, to the dishes, to the cleaning. Before lunch, I spent an hour and a half hand washing over 100 dishes and cups from breakfast and got to have genuine conversation with another local worker. I am beginning to realize that this is just the way of life here—you fellowship with one another while working together to serve those you love! I have been so encouraged by the way everyone on staff here at the James Place will drop whatever they are doing to go hold a crying child or come and help during lunch and bath time. The children here know that they are loved and cared for here no matter what, and that makes all of the difference in the world. The staff members here have every chore down to a perfect system and make it look effortless, but it most definitely is not. One thing for sure, I have definitely realized how much I take for granted back in the States—from a dishwasher to a laundry machine to a copier (we have to literally hand write and copy every single item we want to use with our preschoolers). But despite the hard work, no one ever complains and takes on the chores with joy. It is so evident that the people here know who they are ultimately serving—“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord, rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23).

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This was our last day of “work” for the week because this weekend is an African holiday, so we get a 4-day weekend. All of the other interns had already planned to use this time off to explore the beautiful land of Uganda and go on a safari tour, and when they needed one more person to make the deal cheaper, I was more than willing to tag along! I don’t think we will have any access to Wi-Fi during this trip, so I will make sure to update the blog with some pictures whenever I get back! Jinja is such a beautiful town and I am overjoyed that I have the opportunity to see even more of Uganda’s landscape!

…Below I attached a picture of a couple of the fellow interns and I in our “running attire” (consisting of long, loose pants in this hot weather) in order to respect Ugandan cultural dressing norms…a funny sight for sure! We ran a few miles around “the loop” in the area and got to explore Jinja a little more.

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Made it to The James Place!

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So…I made it! After basically 24 hours of traveling and lots of flight delays, I made it to the Entebbe Airport where I was welcomed by the kindest man, Abdulla (who works for HEAL Ministries), who I ended up spending 8 hours with in heavy traffic on our journey of a drive from Entebbe to Jinja. What would normally be a 2 or 2.5-hour drive became an 8-hour journey due to the standstill traffic we faced through Kampala. What could have been a rough 8 hours actually turned into one of the most exhilarating and exciting experiences due to all that I was able to learn about Ugandan culture through both observation and wisdom of my kind driver (who patiently listened to and answered all of my questions). Just from mere observation, you can see the type of community that is so evident among the people here in that they truly embrace the meaning of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” I saw friends greeting one another outside of every small shop or stand and passing children to one another as if the child belonged to every one of them. After the long journey, we finally pulled up to The James Place gates at midnight and I was greeted by my wonderful fellow interns with spaghetti they had cooked and saved for me as well as a bunk and place to store my things. Upon arrival, I could tell by the joyous smiles on each one of their faces that I was coming into an incredible place and community of people…and I can already tell after one day that this prediction was right!

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I still can’t believe it is real…but I am currently living in Jinja, Uganda and am already beginning to build relationships with some truly amazing people—from the other interns, to the women in our business programs, to the children that fill me with joy every time I see their beautiful smiles. The James place (the property of HEAL Ministries) is full of life and people with stories to tell. From the director (Jaja or Tina) to the beautiful women and children that we serve, the focus is on Jesus and doing our best to genuinely love one another the way He calls us to. HEAL Ministries is made up of various parts separated into women’s ministries and children’s ministries. Childcare and pre-school classes are provided all day long so that the women can either focus on their business or artisan classes or work (many women are employed on-site at the James Place as well doing various jobs). I am serving as a Pre-School/Childcare intern during my time here and it has already been so humbling to see how important every single intern’s job here is in order for the needs of both the women and the children to be met. As a Pre-School/Childcare intern, I will get to help teach in the 3-4 year old classroom (teaching the same concepts I was able to teach to my students this past year in Spartanburg, SC) as well as help in the feeding, bathing, and chores that taking care of 75 small babies and children ages 1-6 entails. As most anyone who knows me can tell you, I absolutely LOVE teaching and working with young children, so this is pretty much a dream come true for me. I spent the majority of today playing in the giant red-dirt play area at the front of our property with our little ones and helping the Ugandan childcare and meal preparation staff wherever I could be used (I will start working in the preschool classroom tomorrow morning). From helping wash/fold laundry to helping bathe and putting the children down for nap after lunch, I just tried to step right in and learn from the women who knew what they were doing. After the children were bathed out front and put into fresh clothes, the children would simply stand at the edge of the bathing tarp and reach their arms out to you so that we could carry them across the red dirt to the napping area without getting their little feet dirty. I absolutely melted in this moment and was in complete awe at how sweet and precious these little ones were to trust me so soon and let me simply love on them. After the children go down for nap, the staff gets to eat lunch and help with the chores to get the laundry and food ready for the afternoon. During this time, I was also able to spend lots of time talking with the women while folding towels and rocking babies to sleep. After these few hours of calm and peace, the children wake up to have snack and more play time outside. Then we do story time and tutoring for the preschool children. It was so awesome to get to practice letters and colors with the 2 children assigned to me and see how much they know! They were so excited to show me different examples of the colors I would flash at them—for example, if I showed them a green slip of paper, they would race to see who could touch the green leaf first and show “Greeen….look…this green!!” Their pure joy for learning and showing what they knew was probably my favorite part of the day because of how powerful it was to see children the same age as my pre-k students this year with the same zest and love for learning! I am truly a believer in the absolute critical importance of early childhood education and exploration, because if you can teach a child to love learning, they will have what it takes to not only succeed, but excel in primary school and beyond! After this, the children are either picked up by their mothers seeking employment in the community or taken home by mothers who are working or taking classes at The James Place.

When our workday was done at 5:30, my fellow interns and I walked into the main area of Jinja and got to do some exploring of the beautiful town! Afterwards, we cooked vegetables and potatoes interns had bought at a local produce stand a few days before and went around the table sharing various parts of our day. I am beginning to see why all of these interns were so joyful upon me arriving last night…because they knew I was about to enter into a special community that gets to serve and have true fellowship together the way I believe Jesus intends for us to. It has been an incredible first day and I am so excited for all that the Lord has in store for the rest of my time here at The James Place!

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