While running with a fellow missionary (a few life stages ahead of me, that I met a few weeks ago) here in Jinja last Saturday morning, we were sharing our stories and bits and pieces of what God is doing in our lives. And she, without even realizing it, shared some of the most profound words with me, that have honestly stuck with me ever since…
“You know, something I’ve learned with the Lord through all these years, is that, well, it’s not just about ‘getting to’ the destination…it’s about letting Him teach us along the way what He wants us to see and learn…
It’s about the journey, not just “getting to” the destination….”
Later that morning, at the new BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) bible study I have started with a group of women in the surrounding Jinja area, we just so happened to be talking about a similar topic…because the study we are going to be going through is, of course, “People of the Promised Land.” Story after story of God’s people, traveling the long and hard journey to the Promised Land, learning, again and again, that “there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you. There is no rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).
It’s like God was trying to tell me something….
When we began talking about how our final destination, as believers now in Jesus Christ, is heaven, one of the older women in the group so beautifully added in,
“And while here on Earth, we have to look after and lock arms with our brothers and sisters, and bring them along on the journey to the final destination with us…”
So, all of this got me thinking…what am I doing here on Earth to bring brothers and sisters along on this journey with me? Yes, I love Jesus with all of my heart and soul, but I am a broken sinner, just like everyone else, and the only true hope I have is Jesus Christ.
He is the reason for my joy. He is the reason for any strength I have. And His grace is the only reason I am currently living and serving Him here in Uganda, halfway across the across the world from the love of my life and everything that has always provided me worldly security and comfort. And, through some really special conversations with my precious fiancé (over Facetime, of course), I felt like these verses just kept coming up, again and again:
1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have…”
1 Peter 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
…The same message that brought me to fall in love with the Lord all those years ago. The same message that keeps me coming back to His word each morning for more and more, because as I grow in my walk with Him, I realize how desperately I need His grace…day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. The same message that I have to keep reminding myself of, as my flesh wants to run the other way and after worldly desires, and Jesus so lovingly welcomes be back…every single time. He never gives up on me, and He never gives up on you… and never will. His grace and His forgiveness is the reason for my hope. The reason for our hope.
In my favorite devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, I read the following words and have been chewing on them all week…
“Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). That is the way the grace of God begins. It is a constraint we can never escape; we can disobey it, but we can never start it or produce it ourselves. We are drawn to God by a work of His supernatural grace, and we can never trace back to find where the work began. Our Lord’s making of a disciple is supernatural. He does not build on any natural capacity of ours at all. God does not ask us to do the things that are naturally easy for us – He only asks us to do the things that we are perfectly fit to do through His grace, and that is where the cross we must bear will always come…”
As I have been learning to trust God on this journey, I am learning that His grace is enough…truly enough. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to make God love me anymore or any less. He loves me. He loves us. And He wants a relationship with us all. And it is this same grace that compels me, and compels us all, to love and serve those around us. People who so desperately need to be shown the same grace and love that we have been shown. As the pastor at the Amazima church spoke about last weekend, we are no longer living under the law, but under the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Romans 6:14 – “…for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”
Romans 8:1-2 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free…”
“Walk with me in the freedom of forgiveness…If you carry a burden of guilt on your back, you are more likely to stumble and fall. At your request, I will remove the heavy load from you and bury it at the foot of the cross. When I unburden you, you are undeniably free!”
– Jesus Calling Devotional
My best friend here, sweet Grace (and mother of Baby Malachi) and I were talking during lunch today about life. As she shared some things that were going on, I asked her how she keeps her radiating joy, day-in and day-out. And she just stopped me, mid-conversation, and said, “Oh Emily. Heaven is the only thing worth fighting for. It is the reason we have hope…it is our only hope. When you get a chance today, I want you to go look up these verses in 1 Peter that have spoken to me and been what I have needed all these years…”
So, as soon as I got back to the classroom, I whipped out Teacher Rebecca’s Bible and read the verses she told me to…and was just blown away…
1 Peter 4: 14-15 – “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 4:8-11: – “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
These words (above) are just some of the verses Grace spoke about….and I don’t think it was a coincidence that these very verses were the exact things God had already been laying on my heart and teaching me during my time here….
I have been so blessed by the Lord’s gracious love through this journey of coming back to Uganda to learn so much more about His character, through His word and through precious time with Him alone. Through this journey of drawing closer to Him than ever. I may technically be the one over here “serving,” but really, I am being served and loved more than I could ever deserve by my Heavenly Father and His beautiful people here.
My students bless me each morning with the biggest hugs and smiles, and reminders of their love for me, throughout the entire day. As I lay them down and tuck them in for nap time each day, I am just in awe at the Lord’s grace in bringing me here. To love and be loved by His precious, adorable little children.
We even got to take them on a little field trip to the local Ripon fishing village today, so that our little ones would get to go look at boats…since we have been studying the letter “B” this week…
…And their curious little hearts just had the sweetest time. The whole time I was there, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite verses in the Bible about what Jesus calls us to do in this life…
Matthew 4:19 –
“And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
My friends, like Betty and Grace (who I got to visit in Masese Slums last weekend), who welcome me into their homes and families and treat me like one of their very own…
…Friends who, honestly, feel more like family. They are my family here.
…The faces I so look forward to seeing each and every day at the James Place, and the hugs I can’t wait to give and receive. The smiles of pure joy that cross not only their faces when I walk up, but sweet Baby Malachi’s too…who has just completely stolen my heart…if you can’t already tell…
My fiancé , sweet John Wesley said something so stinkin’ wise, and right in line with what my friend Grace and I discussed, when he said, “the world around us doesn’t need to hear stories about great faith, they need to hear, see, and experience the reason for the hope we have, no matter what is going on and no matter the worldly circumstance.” He even sent me this amazing sermon by a pastor named Charlie Dates (who pastors a church in inner-city Chicago), where he was talking about the mystery and beauty in the gospel…
“Not only that, Christians were viewed a strange people. I mean they were calling one another brothers and sisters, even though they were married to one another, and in family with one another. Because...the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends the barriers of age and ethnicity and of blood lines. It does something, by making us a family, even though we come from different parts of the world, and different parts of the city, and other sides of the track.”
…My friends and little students here in Uganda have become more like family, as we share in our love of Christ, our living hope. His love unites our hearts like none other, and it is such a beautiful thing to experience.
I am so thankful for this journey the Lord has not only called me on, but called us all on… To fall more in love with Him as we journey to our Heavenly destination, and lock arms with our brothers and sisters all around us, big and small, on our way there! Sharing in the hope, love, and grace that only His Presence can bring…and inviting others in along the way!
“Live first and foremost in My Presence. Gradually you will become more aware of Me than of people and places around you. This awareness will not detract from your relationships with others. Instead, it will increase your ability to give love and encouragement to them. My Peace will permeate your words and demeanor. You will be active in the world, yet one step removed from it. You will not be easily shaken because My enveloping Presence buffers the blow of problems. This is the path I have set before you. As you follow it wholeheartedly, you experience abundant life and peace.”
-Jesus Calling Devotional