A Meditation on Generosity

‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ – Luke 12:48

Last Sunday, as I sat in church listening to the final announcements after the end of Mass, a response to one announcement in particular has had me thinking a great deal about generosity, or a lack thereof, since.

I attend a fairly large Catholic church here called St. Joseph’s, about a 10 minute boda (small motorcycle) ride from home, and as far as I know, I am currently the only non-African in the congregation. That in itself has been an interesting experience. There seem to be just as many similarities as there are differences between attending church at St. Joseph’s and attending St. George back home. One of the main differences here is that the congregation is mostly (if not all) from semi-rural areas or villages, and the priest’s mode of transport is a boda instead of a car. That was the subject of the last announcement at Mass last weekend.

Apparently our parish priest travels around a lot to visit and say Mass at many of the sub-parishes in surrounding towns and villages. Riding a boda on dirt roads around Uganda is not exactly the safest or cleanest mode of transport. As a member of the congregation was sharing with us, Father often ends up having to lead Mass covered in red dust from his journey, and he is usually carrying the Eucharist with him. During the elections, when tear gas was sprayed around Kampala, Father was impacted on his way to a parish. Again… not the safest or cleanest mode of transport for a priest and the blessed Eucharist. He has been saving up for a few years already but does not yet have enough to purchase a car. On Sunday, we were asked if we would be willing to contribute to his efforts as a collection box was being set out. Almost every single person in the church got up to give what they could. I stayed seated.

My thought process as I watched everyone walk up to the front went something like this… I already gave more than I’d planned to during the Offertory, and I didn’t really bring enough money to donate to something else, even though it’s for a good cause. I don’t want to crawl over people again to get up to the front. Why do they keep asking for money twice each week, both at the Offertory and at the end? I need to remember for next week, so I can make sure I can contribute something both times, maybe giving less during Mass so I can also give some at the end. Then I won’t give too much. They’re giving out the mobile money number to help Father anyway, so I could just use that to contribute during the week if I need to. Can I really afford to contribute to this? I’ve already figured out a budget for my weekly contributions, and then I have my budget for food and activities laid aside. If I give for this, I might not be able to do all the cool things I want to do while I’m here, like a safari or rafting in Jinja.

Luckily, at this point, I caught myself, or rather, the Lord smacked me upside the head. How selfish can I be? Really? As often happens with me, I’m thinking of all the what-ifs of the future, relating to my needs or desires before considering what I might be able to give others out of my excess. And I thought I was getting better in this area. Clearly I have a very long way to go. Old habits die hard.

To provide more perspective, a new school year began this week in Uganda. Education is not free here. Every single family must pay to put their children through school. Often times, school fees consume most of a family’s money, particularly in more rural areas, if they can even afford it. As you can imagine, the more children in a family, the more difficult it is to afford education for everyone. But this didn’t stop the parishioners at St. Joseph’s. During the time of year when finances are tightest, they gave freely. Why didn’t I do the same?

Being a student currently trying to finish an undergraduate degree in Canada, I am by no means well off by North American standards, but I think of what I still spend money on (clothes, shoes, dinners out, movies, etc.) and in what sums, and I cringe at my own selfishness. What I would consider a relatively small amount of money is worth much more here. I did nothing to deserve what wealth I have, I was simply lucky enough to have been born in Canada, into a middle class family. My role might easily have been switched with a rural girl here in Uganda, but for some reason, God placed me where I am. However, as Luke reminds me, because I have been blessed with much, much will be demanded of me. I wrote that verse at the beginning of this post because it’s been on repeat in my head for the last little while, and it was the first thing I thought of after witnessing the generosity of my brothers and sisters in Christ last weekend. It is one of my life verses, serving as a reminder to me that as a daughter of God, I’m always called to serve those around me, especially when I’ve been blessed. I need that reminder often.

The equivalent of around $200 was collected last Sunday to contribute to the purchase of a car for Father, not an insignificant sum by any means, but I couldn’t help compare it to what might have been collected had a similar request been made at my home parish in London, even with only half the congregation contributing during a single Mass. Then I thought about how willing most people at home would be to give on the spur of the moment, after already contributing during the Offertory, when they were tight on finances, and I doubt there would be as large a turnout as there was here.

The thing is, in Uganda, and in many other places around the world, it is a collective society. This has both positive and negative aspects, as most cultural traits do, but I do think there is sometimes a better understanding of stewardship in collective societies. What you have isn’t yours alone. It really belongs just as much to the community as it does to you. Of course, as I said, this isn’t necessarily always a good thing, but the scene I witnessed in church last weekend was a beautiful example of collectivism in a positive light. It brought to mind Mark 12:43-44.

‘Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’ ‘

I definitely struggle with this. When I give, I almost always give out of abundance, never truly sacrificing for others. I pray God continues to grow me in this area. I cannot do it without Him. I pray for perspective and for wisdom, but most of all I pray for generosity. I am ashamed at myself for the instinctive selfishness that directed my thoughts last weekend. I want my instinct to be generosity. The things I have aren’t really mine to begin with. Just as we came into the world with nothing, we will all leave the world with nothing.

Through action I want to live out the things I profess to believe. I want to live with an open heart and an open hand. When people encounter me, I want to become a mere vessel so it’s Christ they see instead of me. I can learn so much from the people here.

 

*Photo is not mine.

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Glimpses

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.‘ – Blessed Mother Teresa

Even here in Uganda, I’m finding small tasks at work can sometimes seem very mundane, even though I know they’re important in the assembly and completion of a project. The quote about from Mother Teresa, who is one of my personal heroes, serves as a great reminder to me to remember that every single thing I do, whether it’s filling out spreadsheets, rearranging layouts in Autocad, or adjusting drawing labels, it can all become a prayer if I do it for the Lord. Being someone who loves getting my hands dirty and interacting with people on a deep level, that is definitely a struggle for me more often than not. I like to feel like all the work I’m doing is meaningful (don’t we all?), and sitting behind a computer screen for hours on end can feel a little tedious (unless it’s research, because anyone who knows me well knows I love research).

There is a difference here at Engineering Ministries International (eMi) though, compared to my previous experiences as a co-op student/intern. Here, these monotonous tasks are interspersed with life-giving ministry. We start every day, every meeting, every project with prayer, reminding ourselves that everything we are doing, we do to serve others and to serve God. The ministries we work with are truly doing some incredible work (like Cherish), and getting to play even just a small part in that is truly a privilege.

In the interest of keeping this entry short, I wanted to share a glimpse of what an average day might look like for me here at eMi. I generally wake up at 6:30, just before sunrise, and spend about half an hour praying/reading/journaling on my own before having breakfast and getting ready. We, being the interns, leave the house at 7:50 to get to work for 8, which involves the 6 of us walking down our very rough/bumpy dirt road past a number of homes, crossing the “main” slightly smoother dirt road of Bulonde (our village), and down to the front gate of the airfield where our office is located. We share an office building with an awesome organization called MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship), whose voices usually float up from the lower level of the building during their worship time in the mornings, as we check our emails and get settled in before our own prayer time begins at 8:30. Our office prayer time usually looks a little different depending on the day of the week, but we always take time to hear specific intentions and pray as a team.

Lunch is served at 12:30, made by our talented office cooks, and we are each allowed a half hour break to eat and socialize. Our work day officially finishes at 4:30 and the interns all kind of trickle out at some point after that, depending on how much work we have to finish or if we want to use the office internet. Since we all live in the same compound, our evenings are usually spent together as a group. We usually all hangout at the girls house doing various different things. Mondays we have bible study, sometimes we watch a movie, or play board games, in the near future we’ll be spending certain evenings volunteering with a local ministry, and Tuesdays we’re going to start playing soccer with the village kids as soon as they’re back in school following the upcoming elections (which I cannot wait for!). It’s funny, I think I’ve spent more time playing board games since coming here than I have in the last 5 years at home.

I have a feeling that there will be several more games this weekend, along with movie marathons, and lots of reading (at least on my part) since we’re confined to the house for four days because of the elections taking place on Thursday. I would like to ask for your prayers for the elections in Uganda this week, that they are carried out peacefully, and that the best person for the Presidency is elected. Please pray for all the Ugandans traveling to their home districts to vote and just for the general safety of the country.

 

 

Thank you all so much for your prayers so far. If you have any intentions that you would like me to pray for, I would love to hear from you, either with a direct message or in the comments here. My prayers are currently going out to the people of Uganda, and to all my fellow interns in the eMi offices in the US, Canada, and India, most of whom are currently all over the world on project trips serving with various ministries.

Many blessings to each of you!

Life in Uganda

‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ – Romans 12: 4-5

Having now spent exactly two weeks in Uganda, I am starting to get the hang of daily life here. Our schedules haven’t yet been totally normal for two days in a row, but as our intern group finishes up our last few orientation sessions/activities and continues getting deeper into the projects we’ve started working on, I’m thinking we will get into more of a routine. The excitement has definitely been fun though! I’ve never had a more eventful beginning to a work term.

Before I get any further, I want to introduce you all to my fellow interns at the Engineering Ministries International Uganda office. There are three muzungus (the Luganda word for white person or foreigner), including myself. The other two North Americans are Tyler and David. Tyler is a structural engineer from Portland, Oregon who seems to love adventure and the outdoors, and is pretty much up for trying anything. David is an ecological engineer from New Hampshire/Ohio who is intelligent and inquisitive, and my fellow bookworm (yay!). Then, to round off our team of six, there are three Ugandan women, Shivan (emphasis on the “Shi”), Siima, and Patience (or as we call her, Pesh). Shivan is a civil engineer from Mbarara in the western region of Uganda, and is probably the most energetic and outgoing member of our group, who also happens to be our resident expert on all things eMi, having been an intern for the previous term as well. She is lots of fun! Siima is also a civil engineer and happens to be from the same town as Shivan. She is my roommate, feisty and intelligent, with great ambition. Pesh is a construction manager (females represent!) from Entebbe, just a half hour drive from where we’re staying. She is kind, caring and gentle with a great sense of humour.

It’s been great getting to spend time as a family unit out here on in our compound with Maggie (our eMi grandma) and at work over the last couple of weeks. I am looking forward to the adventures we’ll be able to add to our memories during the next several months. Last night was our second bible study meeting, which we used to figure out our plans for study for the rest of our Monday night sessions. I’m very excited about the topics of study we’ve chosen and the discussions and debates to come, especially because it gives us a chance to grow our faith together, and draw us closer to Christ.

One of the things I’m coming to love best about living here is the strength of community, not just in our office at eMi, but among the community at large, in the villages and churches. This is really a collective society, much more so than in North America, and everyone has a place they belong. I know being a collective society comes with it’s challenges (like a lack of privacy and expectations that each member will help to provide for the whole group when they earn an income of some sort), but there is also great blessing in it.

Among the many things I’ve been learning since moving here, gratitude in all things is probably at the top of the list. Today being the third straight day with no running water at our house, and sporadic internet and electricity over the last few nights, it’s been a little frustrating. But it’s spurred much thought about resources and water and how often those things are taken for granted back home. I definitely won’t be taking water for granted for the next little while. We finally got a water truck to fill up our tanks tonight, and seeing the water running from the tap again was such a joyful experience. Praise God for clean water! I’m sure once I get home I’ll end up taking it for granted again. Living in Canada, the country with the most fresh water in the world, it’s hard not to take it for granted, but I won’t forget this experience anytime soon. I’ve said several prayers over the last few days for all those around the world without access to water, and those who have to walk several kilometers every day for only a jug or two for their entire family. It’s helped create some much needed perspective for me and encouraged me to look for the blessings in challenges. I’m reminded how truly luck we still are. The lack of water was really only an inconvenience, given we still had water at work, and both the guys’ house and Maggie’s house had mostly full tanks. It was just a matter of heading over there to shower or use the washroom. One bonus, we were off the hook for dishes after bible study. 😉

This idea of thanking God for everything, including the challenges and struggles that come our way, is not a new concept for me. I first attempted to practice this when I had the privilege of reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts (fantastic book to pick up and read whether you’re religious or not), which is all about gratitude, in all things. As I continue practicing, it’s getting easier to be thankful during the most difficult seasons of my life, but not yet easy. Just as Christ has used my hardest seasons to draw me closer to Him in the past, I look forward to growing closer to His heart during my time in Africa, as He helps me find joy in times of deep loneliness and struggle and allows me to bask in His glory in the times I am showered with abundant gifts.

‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.‘ –
1 Thessalonians 5:18

There are so many other things I could talk about… mass and my church here, public transport, village life, and daily office activities, to name a few, but I will save them for another post. I want to thank you all for your support and prayers. I so appreciate all of you!

Photos for this post to come later, and please don’t forget to check out the “Support My Mission” tab at the top of the home screen to make a financial contribution to my internship. (If my funds were in USD, I would have already reached my goal, thanks to the generous support of so many, but with the exchange rate currently being what it is, I still have a little ways to go.) I’m currently about 75% of the way there. Thank you in advance!

 

Storybook Experiences

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ – Proverbs 3:5-6

I live for a God whose goodness is beyond words.

His beautiful and perfect gifts are so much greater than I could ever deserve. Having now spent a full week here in Uganda, there are many things that have been difficult, but so many things I love. I know this is where God has called me to be for this time, and I remind myself of that whenever I’m struggling to adjust to life here. I’m so grateful to be in this place.

Today was a very special day, the climax of part of a story God has been writing in my life since mid 2012, when I first picked up a book at a Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio that would later transform my life. Though I’m sticky from the heat, covered in red Ugandan dust, and very much looking forward to a shower and sleep, it has been one of the greatest days of my life so far and I would love to share it with you.

To share a bit more context…
In 2012, shortly after returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic (which completely shook apart my life in the best and hardest way), I found myself at a Catholic youth conference in Steubenville, Ohio. While browsing through the campus bookstore, I stumbled upon a book called Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, a 19-year-old girl who moved to Uganda, adopted 13 little girls, and started a ministry called Amazima to serve the poorest of the poor. It wouldn’t be until the following spring when I finally got the chance to read it, but once finished, Katie’s story would stick with me for months and years afterwards. It awakened a part of my heart I’m not sure I knew existed and lit me on fire again for Christ. God was calling me to missions through Katie’s story, specifically to Africa. I didn’t yet know which country, but I honestly didn’t think it would be Uganda.

By that time, Amazima Ministries had gained a special place in my heart. I followed Katie and her ministry closely over the next few years. She has become such an incredible role model for me. Her heart for Christ and the poor, as well as her humility and gentleness are things I am constantly striving to attain.

In 2014, when I first found out Amazima was planning to build a secondary school, I was very excited. As someone who firmly believes that education is one of our greatest weapons against the suffering of the world, I thought this school seemed like the perfect next step for their ministry. I enjoyed following the development of the project, as they revealed the schematic design, began looking for staff, and announced the new Head of School. At that point, I hadn’t payed any attention to who was actually working with Amazima to design this school, so when I was accepted for an internship with Engineering Ministries International (eMi) in Uganda beginning in January 2016, I had no idea these two ministries had already established a relationship.

I was delighted to discover, shortly before leaving for my internship, that eMi was actually designing the Amazima School. What I never dreamed (OK, maybe I dreamed of it, but that’s all it ever was, a dream) was that I would be placed on the design team for Phase 2 of this project, visit the site and see the current state of construction in person, get to be part of a long and fascinating design meeting and discussion about the school, and meet a whole bunch of the Amazima staff. Today was truly an incredible day.

The thing is, I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. After our site visit, where we checked out the Phase 1 buildings currently under construction and walked around the very large site on a hill outside of Jinja, our team headed to downtown Jinja for lunch with the school director, principal, and several other Amazima staff. There had been rumors that Katie might be around at some point today, but I was refusing to get my hopes up. However, as I walked up to the table at the restaurant behind Jeff, there she was, Katie Davis, sitting right there chatting with several people waiting for us to join them. It was somewhat surreal seeing her there right in front of me. She wasn’t able to stay for very long, since she was heading to another meeting, but it was such a pleasure to be able to meet her when I truly never thought I would, and be able to thank her for the work she has done/is doing and the powerful way God has used her to speak to me and countless others. In person, she is every bit as lovely as one would think from her writing. Today was one of those great surprise gifts from God. What a blessing.

The rest of the Amazima team was fantastic as well. I loved having the opportunity to hear their vision for this school first-hand, not just in terms of architectural ideas, but also curriculum and how they plan to foster and disciple these children in a family environment centered around Christ and His loving example. This school is truly going to be one of a kind when it’s finished, and I feel so blessed to be able to work with such a fantastic team and have a part in its creation.

If you would like to learn anything else about the Amazima School, please check out the link below…

https://amazima.org/what-we-do/amazima-school

Or more about Amazima Ministries. They are truly an wonderful organization, changing the lives of children and adults in desperate need…

https://amazima.org/

I’ll be posting again very soon with more thoughts on Uganda, my first week of experiences, my fellow interns, and what daily life looks like here. Many blessings!