It’s been awhile. 🙂
Goodness, I’ve thought long and hard about this post, about what words I should fill this space with. This is an update that is long overdue – to the point that there has been so much going on within & without, I’m not even sure what to include. Because if I were to truly touch on everything that has happened in the past 2 months, I could probably write a post so long that your fingers would get tired of scrolling and your eyes would get tired of reading. So, I’m just going to pray over this blogpost, begin typing, and see what comes out. (And probably do a lot of editing.;) Here we go!
December was supposed to be merry and bright. I had so many expectations for my first Christmas season in Africa; things I wanted to do and ways to celebrate with the kids and mamas. Christmas has longtime been one of my favorite seasons. I’m that girl who has a several ugly Christmas sweaters hanging in her closet and will wear them as part of her daily wardrobe in November. I’m the girl who thrills at the wonder and magic of the season, savoring every little bit of it and wanting it to last as long as possible. I wanted to make this the best Christmas ever for Amani. Little did I know what God had in store for us in the month of December!
Right at the beginning of December, our world at Amani turned upside down. We had just gotten back from the Saturday Market; I was preparing to wash my vegetables in the solution of water and vinegar when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Looking behind me, I saw that it was Mama Sarah. As she quietly motioned for me and another intern, Grace, to come to her, I felt a jolt of concern. This was not normal. In hushed tones and accented English, she told us the shocking news that “Auntie Laura”, my beloved friend and our resident director, had been in a boda (taxi motorcycle) accident with her youngest son, Jonah. Somehow she had ended up at the hospital and someone had just arrived with the news. We quickly gathered our belongings, hopped on a boda, and made our way to the small hospital. On the ride there, all I could think was, “Please, God. Please. Let them be okay. Please. Please.” Although that ride lasted maybe 5 minutes, it seemed like an eternity, as we prepared ourselves for whatever we would find when we arrived.
When we arrived, we found Jonah unharmed, and Laura lying in a hospital bed mostly free of external wounds, but unconscious with a severe brain injury. They decided to move her to another hospital to get further testing. Grace and Mama Sarah would go, and I would take Jonah and inform everybody of what was happening. Shock and adrenaline took over and as I prayed silently for my friend. As I prayed for God to surround her in His peace and presence, a peace took over my heart as well.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Do the next thing, Joy. Just do the next thing,” is what I had to keep whispering to myself. And so that’s what I did, for hours, until there seemed to be nothing else to do except sit and pray and pray and pray. (And maybe cry some, because you know.)
That same day, all the mamas came together and decided to hold a prayer meeting for Auntie Laura. Although it was birthed in sorrow, it will forever be one of my most favorite moments. To see these strong, beautiful Ugandan women on their knees before our God, praying and singing heartfelt praises in their native tongue, was such an encouragement to my heavy heart. Their trust and faith was so simple, so childlike. It was a beautiful reminder that God is still on His throne, He’s still in control.
The next days that followed were crazy, as we took shifts being with Laura in a Kampala hospital (which is about a 3 hour car ride from Jinja), tried to minimize the impact of all of this on Amani, prepared for the new directors to come, continued planning multiple Christmas events, and tried to keep morale up. The days were long, hard, and tiring. But through it all, God was so evident. I’ll share with you something I wrote on my Instagram:
“This week has included quite a few tears, almost daily 2-3 hour trips to Kampala, added responsibility, the resurfacing of mumps for the kids, countless whispered and out loud prayers, and some serious sleep deprivation. While my body quite possibly may be the most exhausted it has ever been, my spirit is encouraged. I’ve seen the Body of Christ unite worldwide unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People we’ve never met bringing us coffee and breakfast in the hospital, friends here pitching in literally wherever there’s a need, hundreds (if not thousands) of people lifting the Chaffins up in prayer, and complete strangers pitching in to support them financially. At one point, we even prayed together with the family of another ICU patient.
In addition to that, it’s been so beautiful to witness the way that Laura is walking through this. She’s always had a heart for God, but it’s shining so brightly now. Although her speech is not quite recovered, she uses plenty of her words to pray and to praise God. Even on her hospital bed, separated from her precious boys, she is trusting and believing that God is defending her. He is working all of this for their good and His glory. What an example of a life of a tried & true Christian. When trials hit, when we’re squeezed, what comes out — flesh and despair OR Jesus? Even groggy and tired, Laura is giving glory to God…and making us laugh.
It’s been a very hard week, yes. But in it, I have witnessed beautiful things. Even in the midst of pain and chaos, Jesus has been here flooding us with His oceans of grace, comforting with His presence, and equipping us with His strength. He is not limited, our God. He is mighty to save. He’s already answered so many prayers this week and worked so many miracles. I know that He’s going to continue to do so.”
Those words proved to be true for the whole month and even now. Though Laura is not yet restored to full health, and though there is still quite a long road to recovery ahead of her, God has already brought her so far from that first day. I trust that He is still going to bring complete healing, as she is now back at home in Texas receiving some of the best care. The Lord reminded me that the wall wasn’t rebuilt in a day. It took time and effort, prayer and grace.
Besides this, December included some bittersweet goodbyes, a lot of unknowns, BIG change, and a rather severe case of E. coli. It just seemed like thing after thing piling up, until I found myself wishing away the Christmas season and longing for January 1st, so I could leave all of this behind me and start fresh. Last year. Old news.
Except I felt a whisper in my soul as the Lord said, “Don’t miss me in this, Joy. Don’t miss what I’m doing right here and right now. There is still much to learn in this season, things I want to show you and things I want to teach you, ways I want to reveal Myself. Lean into this instead of pushing it away. Don’t limit Me. Let Me use this.”
And you know what? He did. And He still is. It wasn’t the Christmas season I had envisioned in my mind. It wasn’t all merry. There were some tears shed here and there. But it actually was bright, because it’s in “seasons of darkness” that Jesus shines especially brilliantly — if you have eyes that choose to see. So, it was still good. Very good. Because when your joy is founded in the Unchanging One, instead of circumstances that are out of your control, you should be able to celebrate anytime and anywhere. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
And even if I wasn’t always feeling the “Christmas spirit,” that doesn’t change the truth of what Christ has done. Immanuel, God with us, entered this weary world, giving reason for it to rejoice. He entered into our darkness and our brokenness, and made the way to lift us out of it…bringing light and life. Joy and peace. Restoration and redemption. Hope. Now that’s worth pondering and celebrating on Dec. 25th and everyday.
As I’ve spent time reflecting on all of this going into this new year, my heart is full of love, gratitude, and praise for my King, my Closest Friend, my Lord, my Jesus. All glory be to Him!
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”
“Great things He hath taught us,
great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see.”
And As Always, heaps of photos!
- The Christmas Party – It rained the whole day of the party, but that didn’t keep us from having a good time! Mama Agatha read us the Christmas story, we handed out gifts and bonuses, laughed and danced, played dodge ball in the rain, and ate chocolate cake.
- Christmas Open House with Mamas – When I was mulling over what special things we could do for Christmas, I thought that it would be super special if we could have an open house for the mamas during their break. So that’s what we did — twice! We listened to Christmas tunes, ate an abundance of cookies, danced, and painted nails. It was such a sweet and special time of serving these ladies who give of themselves everyday so selflessly. These two parties would also rank in some of my favorite moments in Uganda thus far.
- Christmas Eve – On Christmas Eve, we went downstair and shared Coke floats with all of the kiddos and staff. (You can’t find rootbeer in Uganda.) The kids were absolutely thrilled at getting such a fun treat before bedtime. Later in the evening, when all of the kids were asleep, two interns went downstairs and put little gifts in the stockings hangin on each bed, so that they kids would wake up to a fun surprise.Upstairs, we made a special Christmas Eve dinner and had a quiet evening.
- Christmas Day Bonfire (aka “Bon-ee-fire) – The kids LOVE bonfires! So we decided to have one to celebrate Jesus’ Birthday. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, roasted hotdogs, and ate popcorn. It was such a simple, but beautiful evening. As I served chapati and fruit and looked around at all of the dear people sitting around the fire, my heart was full to bursting.
- Behind the Scenes Tour with Friends – Okay, this was AH-MAZING. I got to play with a 4 year old elephant named Edward, feed a giraffe, get real up close with lions, and touch a rhino. So, so cool! (p.s. Come visit me and you too can do this!;)
- Other Stuff – Picnics and outings with the lovies, packages from home, small in between moments…
Thanks for reading, friends!
Until next time,