Saturday, March 24, 2012

Miracles: Big and Small - The Support Journey

Last May, I finished my two year mid-term commitment in Uganda to come back to transition to a long term commitment with my agency. There were a lot of changes in going from a mid-term to long term commitment. A big one? My monthly budget. Going long term, my budget over doubled. I repeat, over doubled. I sat down with the finance department at WorldVenture and tried to see what we could cut. I discovered that the changes were for all good and valid reasons. Their wisdom and experience showed and I ended up changing nothing.

When I left WorldVenture in June, I was in panic mode. And I mean, PANIC. In ways, transitioning from mid-term to long term was easier since I already had a support base. The problem? When I was raising support to go over for mid-term, I talked to pretty much everyone I knew. Now, I needed over double the amount. Who else was I supposed to talk to!?

I had NO idea how I was going to raise all that support. No. Idea. Which, I guess, was the point. I wasn’t going to raise a penny. This was going to have nothing to do with me, actually. When I was raising support for mid-term, I knew that it was going to be God…but I still was nervous about asking for support. I think I still thought it was going to be my effort. This time around, God made it clear from the beginning that this was going to be all Him.

A few weeks after returning from training, I met a couple at my church. They asked if we could get together to talk sometime about how they could use their skills to help Uganda. That’s all I had expected out of the conversation. Right before we talked business, they shocked me by informing me that they wanted to be a part of the monthly financial team.

In that moment, I was in complete shock. It was the last thing that I expected them to say. God used that specific moment to say, “I got this. This whole support thing is going to be ALL Me and none of you so…get ready”. And you know what? It WAS. That couple was just the beginning. God wowed me over and over again with whom He chose to join this team. That conversation was one of the first speechless moments but definitely not the last.

From Virginia to Colorado, Michigan to Arizona. In the past ten months, I’ve traveled to 16 states. I've spoken to thousands of people. I never kept count how many times I did my presentation but I have no doubt it's in the hundreds. It’s been one of the most exhausting years of my life. There are some places where memories are vague because I was just so tired (California, that was pretty much my entire time with you). Constantly traveling, living out of a suitcase, hundreds of hello’s and goodbye’s and sharing the same exciting story of what our God is doing in a beautiful country called Uganda. Also, watching God show off. He did so much of that.

Last week, I skyped with some good friends. Near the end of the conversation, they asked me how much more I needed in monthly commitments to be 100% supported. I gave them the figure and they responded: “ok, we’ll call tomorrow and finish that off for you”.

Another speechless moment…however, it quickly switched to a screaming cheering squealing dancing moment! For those who need a good visual, I’m pretty sure it looked exactly like this:

(I wish I was exaggerating. Carlton and I are probably dance twins)

AT LAST! God had done it! The impossible in my mind was always possible in His. It’s been the most awe inspiring journey and with that, I’m almost sad to see it end. It’s been a joy seeing Him work so clearly, not only in my life but in others as well. It has been my joy to glimpse how God has led people. I value the relationship I have with those supporting and the privacy of what God has led them to do. I wish those miracles could be shared: families that I know can't spare a dollar, strangers that I've never met, and so many more. They have inspired and challenged me. I still have A LOT of outgoing expenses** needed so the journey isn’t over. And, really, the journey will never be over. It’s just beginning. If anything, all of this makes me so excited to see what else God will do! I’m returning to Uganda and everything about what I’ll be doing will be different. I know that God’s going to continue this shock and awe journey…and I can’t wait for the ride!

**Want to contribute to those outgoing expenses? Click here!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Grieving Missionary

When I first moved to Uganda, the decision was almost surreal. My goodbyes to friends and family didn’t seem like real goodbyes. Getting on that one way flight to Uganda seemed like any other flight I had taken. I had no clue what life would be like in Uganda nor what I would miss.

That was three years ago.

I am acutely aware this time around what I am saying goodbye to and the implications of that. You don't have to tell me how difficult it is to arrange to talk with loved ones with different time zones and poor internet. I know all too well. I now know what it’s like to miss living life with loved ones. I know what it’s like to miss birthday parties, anniversaries and births of babies. I know what it’s like to desperately need a face to face heartfelt chat with a dear friend and not be able to have it. This time, it’s not two years…it’s forever. I’m moving my whole life over to Uganda. It’s much more final; much more real.

I just finished training at Missionary Training International. During our last week of training, we talked about loss and grief. There are so many joys in the life of a missionary, and I truly hope that those joys come across in this blog. I absolutely love that God has called me to this. However, there are some insanely difficult parts of the missionary life. The discussion on grief hit deeper than I thought it would. I wanted to share this with you all for two reasons:

·       I desire to be open and honest here with the goods and bads, the joys and sorrows. I want to show my struggles and where I’m at now.
·       So that you can more deeply understand what some of the struggles that your missionary friends go through. While there are greater joys than you can imagine, there are deep sorrows experienced as well.

In our training, we covered six guaranteed losses of a missionary:

Stable Nest or Home: The loss of the familiar, of warmth and security, of refuge, of consistency and dependability, predictability and orderliness as well as balance.

Safety: In America, one of our core values is safety and comfort…what happens when you find out the system is corrupt and justice will not have a voice?

Competence: Who are you when you feel inadequate? When you are entering a new culture and reentering your home culture?

Identity: What happens when you’re no longer an insider anywhere? Where does your identity lie?

Support System: Welcome to a vocation where it is a revolving door of relationships. Constant hello’s and goodbye’s.

Quickly and easily attained goals: We come from a goal oriented society. What happens when those goals take years? Learning a language takes years. You never stop learning culture. Discipling others takes years if not generations.

Each one of these has gut wrenching implications. As the group of us processed these, the depth of the sorrow was evident. Fathers weeping; realizing that the safety of their family was no longer in their control. The cries of many as they shared what special occasions they would be missing. And if I could only explain the sorrow of feeling homeless in this world without sounding crazy.

These were all things that I had experienced the past two years and know that it will be heightened even more this time around. This time…I know. And I can now put words to these insane emotions inside of me.

So…I grieve. I grieve over missing the birthdays of my nieces and nephews; seeing them grow up from a distance. I grieve missing the births of my friend’s babies; not only not being there during their pregnancy but also not being there to watch their kids grow up and as they transition in their lives. I grieve not being able to live life with those that I love so deeply. I grieve the loss of stability in my life. The nomadic life sounds romantic and exciting until you’re living it. I grieve the loss of safety and comfort. The unknowns of this life are so many. I grieve the loss of some comforts. I’ve probably mentioned my love of air-conditioning, good roads and fast internet too many times to count. I grieve the loss of home and home culture.  I grieve that I will never fully fit into either culture.

While grieving isn’t exactly a fun party, it’s good. It’s good that this all feels real to me this time instead of constantly living in a surreal state. It’s good that I’m not so excited about leaving that I bypass the grieving on my end or others around me. As much as I know how we can utilize skype and other such ways to stay connected, it's good that I will grieve the loss of closeness in relationships.

Still worth it? Most definitely. Insanely difficult? You best believe it.

So, pray. I know that I need prayer in this process...and if you have other missionaries in your life, pray for them. Be a listening ear and a safe place where they can let their guard down and share their struggles. In the midst of grief, may we not lose sight of the joy set before us.