Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Must Change

I must change. 

Life is peppered with important moments.  Sometimes we can sense that this moment, right now, this present experience, this is pivotal.  The road is splitting right here and I have no choice but to choose a direction.  Yesterday I had that kind of a moment.

I walked up the concrete stairs and into a large room where several brown plastic chairs had been formed in a semicircle.  A couple Ugandan men sat in quiet conversation.  To my left was a row of windows overlooking the Eastern half of Kampala.  To my right was a row of windows through which I could see homes with children playing and women working.  A fellow missionary greeted me warmly and walked me around to those who had arrived by 9am.  “Excuse me Kefa, have you met Nathan?” he motioned toward me with one hand while his other rested on Kefa’s shoulder.  I smiled and extended my hand.  One by one I met the overseers (we might call them district superintendents) and administrators of the Africa Gospel Church.  We sang a song and prayed and listed to a short devotional.  The meeting had begun.

Our schedule for the meeting was to include reports from the various districts throughout Uganda, a review of the budget, vision casting, etc.  It’s called the AGM (annual general meeting).  My only role in this meeting was to watch and learn.  In my watching and learning I was shocked at what I saw and changed by what I learned.

“Our district is enduring some challenges.  We have three churches whose buildings have fallen down.”  I was confused.  Maybe I hadn’t heard him correctly.  I reviewed his printed report and saw that all but one of the churches in his district were temporary structures.  He talked about the members of different churches contributing bricks and materials to try and put up a new structure.  “Do we have believers there?” someone would ask.  I felt like I was watching the book of Acts as leaders discussed church development referring to the groups of people as churches.  There were many, yes many, churches with a name and no building.  I could feel my mind and heart and soul ache under the pressure of profound change.  I must change.

“We had a donation of Bibles that gave each of our districts churches eight.”  I listened to this statement and thought it was a little sad.  “Only eight?” I thought.  The man next to me reacted with a subtle expression of appreciation like his faith had just been strengthened.  I looked at him for a while.  He smiled to himself and looked down at his papers and shook his head.  He was excited.  I felt myself change while I watched this leader be deeply encouraged by news of eight Bibles per church in someone else’s district.

As we prepared to leave America for Uganda I told many of you that I expected to impact Ugandan pastors with my education while they impact me with their faith.  Yes.  It is happening.  Change is a gut-wrenching, mind twisting, heart-pounding monstrous pressure cooker.  It hurts.  I sat in that meeting hurting.  I held my tears back not because I felt pity but because I admired them.  “God help me, “ I thought.  “Spirit of God, you are in that man, come and change me,” I prayed.  It is true that I will teach these men and women.  I will train them.  But I discovered yesterday that if I am to spend time with them I must change.  I’ve come to a fork in the road.  I must change.

The moment we stop changing we stop growing.  Change brings life.  If we think we have arrived, finished, maxed out, reached the peak or completed anything in this life then we have lost and died.  God brings us life by causing us to change.

Here’s a good prayer: “God, in the way that You see fit, would you change me today?”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is Happiness Your Thief?

Are you happy?  I’ve been thinking about happiness lately and I’m struggling to find the right way to express my thoughts.  I wonder, is happiness your thief?  We’ve all seen the picture of the donkey pulling a man who is holding a fishing pole.  At the end of the fishing pole is a carrot for the donkey.  The donkey forever moves forward toward the carrot but never receives the carrot.  Happiness is our carrot, stealing our time and energy and desire.  If happiness is our end goal then our lives are filled with torment and frustration and loss.  Christianity is often sold as a “get-happy-quick” scheme that will put a miraculous end to everything that ails you.  In response to this fallacy, we point to things that make us unhappy and label them as a work of the enemy.  We use happiness as our barometer for the value of life thus making it our Lord.  In this way, we serve happiness.  Yet, if God is Lord then what do we do with happiness?

Is it possible that happiness is not the greatest thing in the world?  Is there anything better to live for than happiness?

I’m no expert on this love and happiness thing but I know this: living for happiness brought me pain and living for love brought me love.  We enjoy things in Uganda that make us happy but it’s not all roses.  It wasn’t all roses in America either.  We don’t care!  Happiness is not something the Metz family talks about all that much.  It is our life’s purpose to live for love.  Love causes us to surrender deeply and sacrifice joyfully.  Pain is not our enemy.  Happiness is not our Lord. 

Photo taken Thanksgiving Day, our first in Uganda.

In the loneliness of a first Thanksgiving in Uganda, when our cheeks are wet with tears and a poor Skype connection is the only family we have, we are not harboring bitterness against the will of God that took us so far away.  When our hearts ache for the old normal and our patience is tested in new culture we do not resent the God we love.

The greatest happiness we have ever known is a byproduct of the deepest love we've ever given.  We aren't happy because we sought happiness.  We are happy because we love.

In closing, if you wish to consider how this thinking applies to your life, try answering these questions:
  1. How many relationships do you have that are motivated and sustained by love even if unhappiness occurs?
  2. Could your personal budget best be defined as a pursuit of happiness or an expression of love?
  3. When you decide to quit something, how often is happiness the reason?
  4. How does unhappiness in your life effect the way you praise God?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving in Uganda

Today we're celebrating Thanksgiving in Uganda. It's been an emotional day as we cling to our traditions and connect with family and friends back home. We've cried and laughed. We've cheered over sweet potato casserole and beautiful weather. We've shared our thanks with each other. At times it feels like we are missing out as the holiday season continues without us in Indiana. Today we have realized that to not be here in Uganda would be to miss out on that which we most desire: the perfect will of God for our lives.

Thank you for carrying us in prayer. We love and are thankful for you all!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Maddix's 9th Birthday Project

Our oldest daughter Maddix is turning nine on Saturday!  This year she is celebrating in a special way.  About a month ago we received an email from one of our partners stating that she and her husband wanted to give Maddix some money for her birthday.  They encouraged Maddix to use it for her ministry here and said they want to continue to do this for each of our kids so they can develop there own ministry of giving.  Isn't that an awesome idea!?!  We were thrilled to share the news with Maddix and she knew right away that she wanted to spend her money on orphans.

With my help in the market (that was quite the 2.5 hour adventure!) Maddix purchased 30 kilos of rice, 30 kilos of posho (maize flour), 34 kilos of beans and 48 bars of soap. She prayerfully decided to split her money between the orphanage her brother was adopted from and the orphanage Pastor Wilson and his wife Grace started.

Last Wednesday she invited Pastor Wilson over for tea and surprised him with the news. I wish you were here to see the smiles on both their faces when she told him! Pastor Wilson shared with Maddix that they had been earnestly praying for the Lord's provision because they didn’t have enough food for the 80+ orphans they serve for the upcoming weekend. God knew and supplied for their needs! He is so awesome!

Pastor Wilson and Maddix's tea ready to be served
All grins!
Saturday morning we all piled in the Land Cruiser to distribute the other half of Maddix's birthday donations. When Maddix delivered the food and soap the momma's at the orphanage shouted with joy! It was such a fun morning loving on the babies together as a family.

Maddix held the babies our entire visit!

This photo with Ezra in it is so special to me. I can't help but think about the many times in 2010 when Ezra would run down this sidewalk to greet Nathan, my dad and I at the gate when we visited him. He was so chubby then and would almost waddle toward us! :) God knew back then that 5 years later Ezra would return to this very spot celebrating his big sister's 9th birthday.  God is so awesome! His ways are so much higher than our ways!

Happy Birthday Maddix! We love you and we are so proud of you! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mpola mpola (Mm-Pole-Uh Mm-Pole-Uh)

"Slowly slowly," our guard Peter  says to me every time I leave our compound in the car. Teacher Florence says it to me as I babble my way through Luganda lessons. "Slowly slowly" in Luganda is "mpola mpola". Life in Uganda is mpola mpola. Cooking in Uganda is mpola mpola. Church in Uganda is gloriously mpola mpola. And my favorite thing: conversations in Uganda are mpola mpola. Relationships here take center stage so there is always time to talk. In fact, we spent an entire week in Luganda classes learning formal and informal greetings just because there are so many!  A few times a week I walk up the hill to buy produce from my new friend Elizabeth. It should only take me 15 minutes to walk there, purchase what I need and walk back. It often takes me triple that amount of time. :) 

In all honestly, adjusting to my new mpola mpola life has not always been easy. I came here with an American frame of reference where everything was "quickly, quickly" and convenient. When my American expectations meet my new "mpola mpola reality" it feels like I am being flicked by a rubber band. Twanged. Ouch! While preparing to come to Uganda I received valuable advice from my mentors and fellow missionaries to do what I could to make sure our house here felt like home. I was encouraged to make our home feel like a safe haven, a refuge. As soon as we arrived I began nesting. Often the children would tell me, "this is starting to feel like home now that you have put your touches on things Mommy." Life often feels like chaos for all of us right now so knowing this space is bringing everyone some comfort does my heart good.

A recent twang happened when I wanted to make pillows.  I bought some fabric in America with the idea that I would quickly whip out some pillows. Ha! Here's how it went...

Step One: Find a Seamstress. I don't have a sewing machine here so I asked some fellow missionaries who I could hire to help me make some. After a week or so of asking around I was directed to a sweet Ugandan woman who had a great reputation. We met and discussed what I wanted done. I was so excited to get the call a week later that my pillows were done. She did a fabulous job! What I didn't realize though was that I was supposed to tell her to stuff the pillows.

 Step Two: Find stuffing. Oh bless my heart! With my American frame of reference I thought I would just pop into a place like Jo-Ann Fabrics and purchase exactly what I needed. So after Luganda class I buckled myself into the drivers seat of our Land Cruiser, told myself that I was the fiercest driver in Kampala and drove myself to a supermarket. No stuffing. A couple days later after Luganda class I did the same thing. No stuffing. But they had pillows! Unfortunately they were very expensive pillows that I would have to cut up into smaller pillows.  I couldn't rationalize spending that kind of money so I walked back to the car and had a good cry.  It wasn't just the stuffing that brought me to tears. It's my idea of 'normal' being changed.  A week later this fiercest driver in Kampala drove to the grocery store and BOOM.  On the way I spotted a man walking down the road selling cheap pillows! I felt like I would burst with excitement! I called him over to my car and bought them.  I waited for him to walk away before I rolled up my window and shouted with excitement! You should have seen me!

Step 3: Stuff pillows. On Saturday afternoon I sat on our front porch and happily stuffed my pillows. :)

Step 4: Enjoy these labors of love that took 5 weeks to make! 

I'm learning more about mpola mpola living everyday.  Here are a few take-aways:
  1. Fast living is usually not conducive to relationship building.
  2. Slow is only too slow when I'm too fast.
  3. Productivity is less about the hustle/bustle and more about healthy priorities.
Next time you feel yourself speeding up just pause, take a breath and whisper "mpola mpola".

Monday, October 20, 2014

We Have Discovered Our Best Transitional Tool

I began to see a few boards at the top of my windshield inching forward.  Ezra was the only other person in the car.  He said, “Um…dad?”  I was driving downhill at forty-five miles an hour with a solid mile of rumble strips that would do exactly what they were meant to do.  I slowly put my foot to the brake trying to reduce speed while avoiding a jarring stop that would set the whole pile loose.  My straps weren’t holding.  The speed came down to 38 miles an hour before I hit more rumble strips and the pile moved forward until I could see several feet of it hanging over the hood of the truck.  My foot pushed harder on the brake and the truck decreased to about twenty miles an hour.   More rumble strips.  This time they were especially rumbly and I sensed the pile bounce free and slide forward.  Immediately, I slammed on the brakes hoping that all twenty-five boards would sail over the hood without causing any damage to the vehicle.  Fortunately the truck was unharmed but my ego was not so lucky.
Today marks one month of time here in Uganda.  So far we have been settling in.  I’ve been learning to drive, navigate, buy things, fix things, etc.  Jade has been nesting.  The kids have been acclimating and finding their place here.  Yesterday we turned a new page.
Jade and I began our language lessons.  So now if a Ugandan asks, “Do you speak Luganda?” we can reply “Mannyi Katano” which means, “I know a little”.  I will admit that “a little” is still an overstatement.  Our teacher, Florence, will be visiting our house every day from 9am-12pm for lessons for the next three months.  Today it was a beautiful sixty-two degrees and she wore a winter coat.  We told her that it is much colder than this in Indiana and showed her a picture of a huge snowman we built last winter.  She said, “Did you use your hands?”  We laughed and told her we had gloves and she said, “Oh my!  How many?”

Florence in her winter coat. :)
While we are feeling more and more at home there will continue to be experiences that remind us how much we have to learn.  Once I got that lumber home I commented on how warped and curved the boards were.  A fellow missionary said, “Do you see those marks?  They cut these things with chain saws.  Isn’t it amazing they can use a chain saw to cut a 2X4 ten feet long and still keep it that straight?”  In our adjustments we must be careful to stay in the moment and in the place.  We have grown the most when we embrace Africa for what it is and enter into the culture.  We want Africa to work itself into our minds and hearts so that we can truly minister.

When I finally got out of my truck to begin the clean up I walked around the vehicle and saw a Ugandan man standing and watching.  He smiled a big toothy smile and said, “Hello!  How are you?” as if nothing had happened.  I burst into laughter at his enthusiasm in the face of my very public spill and said, “Bulungi!!!”  He was shocked that I replied in Lugandan and he too burst into laughter.  Perhaps in that moment I stumbled across our best tool of transition: shared laughter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lord, Bend Me

"Someone here needs to allow the Lord to bend them."  Dr. Anthony Graham had excited a packed tabernacle.  "Lord, Bend Me!" he belted with his deep voice.  The Holy Spirit spoke to me and I was moved.  Those three words have been the cry of my heart since hearing them in July at Fairmount Family Camp.  He continued, "If you need to come and say to the Lord 'bend me' then come forward now."  I knew the invitation was for me.

So here we are in Uganda where the grocery stores are laid out differently and the shelves are filled with different brands and foods than what I am used to. Here we drive on the opposite side of the road and have different traffic laws. We brush our teeth with bottled water and have to plan an hour ahead to take showers so the water heather can warm. When everything in me wants to complain and say, “I wish they had ____  here or I wish they did it ___ way here, God is helping me to say, “Lord, Bend me.” I am the one who needs to bend, to flex, to adjust my thinking. 

When bisquick isn’t readily available here, I invite Him on my front step, crank up the praise music and He bends me as I make my own.

                   When the power is out and I can’t use my dryer, I ask Him to bend me as I hang our laundry on the line hoping that the rain clouds will not break loose

When my heart longs to connect with a local Ugandan woman, He invites me out of my comfort zone and bends me enough that I trot up the hill to a local woman selling banana's. In His abundant goodness He gives me a new friend to love.  Her name is Elizabeth. 

When I want to throw my hands up in the air about not knowing how to use a stove with nobs and buttons I have never seen, I invite Him to come change my attitude and I whisper in exasperation, “Lord, bend me.”  He bends and I feel joy as I cook a pot of vegetable soup.

I am here to share the love of Christ with these precious people. I want them to see His joy in me as I wait in crazy traffic, search in the isles of the grocery store and fumble my way through English/Lugadan conversations.

In the process of being bent there are crushing blows like that of a hammer against the anvil and soft sculpting nudges like the potters hands on the clay.  When the hammer strikes we have a choice.  Will we complain about the pain of the hit or celebrate the shape which we are becoming?  When we feel the cultural smash in our bones will we holler "enough!" or will we humble ourselves to say "Yes Lord!  Bend me!"?  So far, I have found joy in the latter.