Advent: “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event” according to the Google Dictionary. It’s the anticipation of the birthday celebration of Jesus that we specifically look forward to in December. I have always enjoyed counting down the days to Christmas! No matter how old I get, I believe I will always look forward to this part of the celebration.
But when you aren’t in your home country, Christmas may look very different than what you are used to. The normal decorations may not be available. New traditions may emerge depending upon what you have available in your new country and culture. For us, in Uganda, often times families would decorate with balloons and maybe a large branch. But mostly each family did not possess a full range of ornaments and a fake tree to pull out of storage each year.
For our family, advent meant two things. First, out came the advent candle wreath with three purple candles, one pink candle and a large while pillar candle in the center; and second, out came the wall calendar with a pouch for each day to count down holding a piece of the nativity scene. The nativity scene would be built one by one each day until finally on the last day, baby Jesus would be revealed and placed in the manger by use of velcro. Over the years, it became a bit worn and so last year I refurbished it a bit. These two things went with us when we moved to Uganda back in 2010. It was one of the few “normal” things we possessed for our Christmas celebration.
A friend and missionary colleague who currently serves in Uganda, Kari Segner, shared her creative ways that their family counted down by using activities and fun things to do. That set me to thinking of various things to do each day as part of the advent countdown. Depending upon your country of service, you may or may not have the same things available for crafts and activities. But being creative with what you have is part of the fun! Using some of my friend’s ideas as well as my own, I have created a Family Advent Countdown that I will share with you here. Each day is based in a scripture chosen by Kari and then an activity for the entire family.
Read Luke 1:26-28. Put up the Christmas tree. If you don’t have one, improvise with what you have. Create a tree on the wall with colored paper or find some branches. Diffuse Evergreen essential oil to fill your house with the smells of Christmas. (24 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 1:29-33. Make a Christmas card to send in the mail to a loved one. Use whatever materials might be available to you. Get creative with cutting out magazine lettering or drawing your own designs. If you mail them now, there is still time for them to arrive in time for Christmas. (23 days left until Christmas)
Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Way! Create a maze by hand on paper to trace the way or make a life-size maze for the family to find their way using boxes or furniture and draping blankets. Make it fun! Perhaps you each take turns making one for others to try. (22 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 1:34-38. Just as the angel visited Mary to announce that the Holy Spirit would come, add some decorations to the tree that might remind you of the angel or the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have any, you could look for the shape of a dove or an angel to decorate and hang. Perhaps you have glitter that could be added to the angel or dove as well. Again, be creative! (21 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 1:18-19. To celebrate that baby Jesus is coming, have a dance party to Christmas music! Find a fun stream on your device to share and enjoy! (20 days left until Christmas)
Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Truth. Play a game as a family where you have to give three statements about yourself but one of them is false. Have fun guessing one another’s truths and falsehoods. You might be surprised what you learn about each other! (19 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 1:20-21. Watch a Christmas movie such as “The Polar Express” and eat popcorn together. (18 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 1:22-23. Make snowflakes out of white paper and hang them in the windows. If you have silver glitter, it might be fun to add that as well. Again, be creative. Crumple up the left over paper and have a pretend snow ball fight! (17 days left until Christmas)
Read John 8:12. Jesus is the Light of the World. Darken a room and play a version of hide-and-seek where the one seeking has a flashlight. Make your own version of the game rules! (16 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:1-5. Create a scavenger hunt, sending everyone on a journey. Use items that are common and easy to find in your cultural context. It might be in the yard or around the house. End the scavenger hunt with some special family treat that you enjoy together like hot cocoa or surprise candy canes that you brought from home. (15 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:6-7. Watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” or another short movie that portrays the Christmas story. End with a family discussion where each one shares several things they are thankful for. (14 days left until Christmas)
Read John 10:1-18. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Spend some time talking about Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Then call a family member such as the grandparents together and wish them a Merry Christmas early. (13 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:8-12. If you have a nativity scene, bring it out now and place it in a prominent place in your home. If you didn’t bring one with you, be sure to prepare for this by finding a locally made one or make your own. You can find ideas online to make a paper one or one from wood yourself. (12 days left until Christmas)
Read Revelation 5:5. Jesus is the Lion of Judah. Make a large paper lion – remember this is just for fun, so it doesn’t have to be perfect – and play “Pin the tail on the lion” using a blindfold. (11 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:13-15. Play a game of “Gossip” where you whisper something in one person’s ear, then they pass it on by whispering in the next person’s ear, and so on until the final person must say out loud what they think they heard. (10 days left until Christmas)
Read Job 19:25. Jesus is our Redeemer. Play a game of “Jailbreak.” Ask the children to each find a personal object that they cherish and bring it to put in a box. The box is the “jail.” In advance (or while they are searching for their personal object) be sure to hide coins of varying values around the room. Then give them time to find all of the coins. Once they have their money, ask them to either buy back their treasured item or choose to keep the money instead. Explain that they can ‘redeem’ their treasured object by buying it back with their coins. In similar fashion, Jesus redeemed us, His treasured possession. (9 days left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:16-20. Have a Christmas carol sing-a-long or even go sing a few Christmas carols to a neighbor. (8 days left until Christmas)
Read John 1:29. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Depending on availability in your country, have a lamb dinner prepared. Or – choose to make sheep by tracing the shape from the internet or a coloring book. Then add cotton balls or glue on crumpled paper towels to give the effect of wool. (7 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 2:1-2. If you don’t already have a Christmas star on top of your tree, make one to place there. Or make a garland of stars to string above a window or on the tree. Again, glitter could brighten this craft up a great deal. (6 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 2:3-6. Make some Christmas cookies, choosing your favorite recipe if possible. (5 days left until Christmas)
Read Isaiah 9:6. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. Make an obstacle course and then blindfold someone. Tell them that they must listen to your voice which will guide them through the obstacle course. Show them that listening to wise counsel helps them find their way. Take turns and change up the obstacle course each time to keep them guessing and help them rely on listening to your voice. (4 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 2:7-8. Play a game of “Hide Baby Jesus” where someone hides a baby doll or something that represents baby Jesus and the others try to find it, taking turns. Or simply choose to play your own version of hide-and-seek. (3 days left until Christmas)
Read John 15:1. Jesus is the True Vine. Make a popcorn garland or use fresh plants to create a garland for the Christmas tree representing a vine, talking about how Jesus is the True Vine. (2 days left until Christmas)
Read Matthew 2:9-12. Make this last day special with something that is traditional for your family. It might be a classic Christmas book that you read together. Or it might be that you have a specific meal where you invite friends and neighbors to join. Perhaps you watch “Elf” or another Christmas movie together. You might even decide to create a new tradition based on something in your new culture. (1 day left until Christmas)
Read Luke 2:1-20 and pray together, thanking the Father for Jesus’s birth. Make a favorite breakfast and declare Christmas morning as PJ zone. Don’t forget the birthday cake! (Merry Christmas)
As you can see, creativity is key as well as availability in your country. But the main thing is to enjoy the journey together as you anticipate our dear Savior’s birthday, the birthday of the King! Whether you are in Uganda, another cross-cultural setting, or in your home country you can anticipate December 25th with the excitement of a child together!
Thanksgiving in Uganda, you say? Cultures collide once more. Living in a country not your own means the opportunity to adopt new traditions, but having a taste of your past traditions can also bring some comfort in the absence of normal, or at least what was once normal.
Recreating your home country traditions in a place where you may not be able to access the normal products can be challenging. Perhaps you are accustomed to a particular brand of candied yams or always bought a Butterball turkey. Relying on the readily accessible now becomes a challenge. Those products are simply not available. Culture shock may settle once more as you seek to recreate the same tasty experience for you and your family. Missing loved ones that you normally share this time with only compounds the experience for some. One’s values are certainly challenged as you consider what is truly important.
But opportunity abounds. Creativity calls. Or perhaps advance planning prevails. Bringing some of those products with you in your suitcase could certainly help in recreating that perfect dining experience. More than likely, some of those have already been consumed on previous occasions. Maybe you received a CARE package with some of those items you are missing. For us, the packages were few and far between. Postage is just so expensive to send something to Uganda from the states.
For me, the search was on. Could one even find a real turkey in Uganda? Yes! They are there for the committed researcher, always with a promise of a nice fat, big turkey underneath all of those feathers and worth every penny. Not only that but they were range free, grass fed turkeys left to forage to its heart’s content. Hmmm. Looks can be deceiving and the purchase of the perfect turkey might just be more challenging than the seller is advertising. But! I found one! The purchase is made. The seller will even kill it and remove the feathers! We are in business!
Next? More research. How to prepare a turkey, essentially a wild turkey, in Uganda so that it is perfectly baked with its juicy interior preserved? For someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy cooking, this is an extra challenge. I had never heard of using a brine in advance to help tenderize a wild bird. Another education to experience. My best advice came from fellow missionaries who had already experimented and perfected the technique. Of course, the turkey arrives with most of the feathers removed and far smaller than I was lead to believe. But! It’s still a turkey. I must admit that my turkey never looked like the perfection in the photo above or even close to my seasoned missionary colleagues. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. (Perhaps I should have just gone with chicken.)
Of course, this is just the turkey! Still so many other items on the menu to figure out how to replicate. Pumpkins are readily available, so pumpkin pie will be easy, I “think.” You can buy canned green beans or buy fresh ones. Of course, I prefer French cut, so that will become labor intensive compared to the canned ones I bought back home. Potatoes. Check! No worries over that one. Plenty of “Irish” potatoes in the market. Now the traditional family fruit salad may not happen, but we have tropical fruits galore. A new fruit salad will simply have to be born in its place! So many items to consider.
I don’t know about you, but recreating something in a foreign culture with different ingredients can be challenging. It can also be fun! Inviting in some of our national friends to help us with the challenge and then sharing in its abundance together is rewarding. Uganda with its own cultures and traditions met these Americans with new culture and traditions. What are your non-negotiables for your Thanksgiving holiday regardless of the culture you are in? Is it people and sharing together? After all, preparing all of that food wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding if there were no one to share it with!
One of the things I realized in my quest to recreate the perfect Thanksgiving meal for my friends is the reminder that it really isn’t about the food. Thanksgiving is about being grateful and remembering. This is something God asked the Israelites to do over and over again throughout history. Hold festivals to remember and to celebrate with your friends and family. We would do well to follow this tradition wherever we go and whatever culture we live in.
So on this Thanksgiving day as I remember the years we spent trying to recreate our Thanksgiving traditions in a different culture, yes, Uganda, I am grateful for those who experienced them with us and shared in the abundance together. And I am grateful for all of my friends and family wherever God has brought them. Happy Thanksgiving!
Reverse culture shock is no laughing matter. Well, perhaps, but it is also serious. It can occur without notice and blindside the most seasoned missionary. Perhaps it is trying to get in the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road, or maybe it’s using an expression that no one understands here in the United States. Maybe it’s being overwhelmed at a grocery store because there are just.too.many.choices! Supposed you were living in a war-torn nation, the sound of target practice by nearby hunters can suddenly be alarming. For me, sometimes it’s realizing that I am talking with my eyebrows and all of a sudden I become self-conscious. (Normally no one notices, or perhaps they are extending me grace by not saying anything, but I notice.)
Some say that the longer you are on the field, the longer it takes for reverse culture shock to disappear. Some say it takes one to three years. Still others say it depends upon how enculturated you were in the foreign culture you were serving in. Some folks even claim it takes just as many years as you were on the field to fully transition and reverse culture shock to completely leave. But truly, it is completely unique to the individual. While people make predictions of how it will go, the life of the missionary themselves must face each challenge as it surfaces.
At the heart of reverse culture shock is the reminder that you are no longer in the place that you call home, your new home which is not in the United States or wherever you were “from.” You are suddenly very aware that you are no longer “there.” It is as if your physical self has arrived but somehow your soul has not quite caught up with your body yet. So strange to feel like a stranger in your own home country.
I remember as if it were yesterday when we arrived in the Atlanta airport. I rushed to the rest room as quickly as I could because I did not want to hold up the family who was ready to go through immigration and get our bags as quickly as possible. I take care of business and try to wash my hands and think, ”Where is the soap? Oh, in this pretty dispenser right next to the faucet embedded in the countertop. How nice. Okay. Got the soap. But, how do you turn on the faucet? There is no handle! Hmmm … this must be automatic. Surely, I can figure this out. I wave my hand here and there. No water. I wave it again in another location. Next to me someone quickly goes to the sink, gets their soap and I observe as they just stick their hands under the faucet and the water rushes over their hands. Oh! That looks easy, as I pretend that I have not been trying to make the faucet go all this time. I put my hands underneath. Nothing. Phooey! I move them around and still nothing. Man, am I feeling dumbfounded. My family must be getting impatient out there waiting on me. If I did not have my hands full of the soap, I would just leave … well, so I give in. The next person who comes to use the sink, I simply ask for help and she is kind. She just moves my hands to where the water begins. I guess I just needed to hold my hands still longer for the water to begin. I am feeling silly now. That was so easy. Well, yeah, easy once you know what to do! Reverse culture shock. I was in my own country but things were not as I was used to anymore. In fact, things had changed over the last decade quite a bit.
To define reverse culture shock, or re-entry as some people coin it, is simply this: it is the process of returning home and feeling disoriented, out of place. It no longer feels fully home. Isolation, depression and hopelessness are common. The bookReturning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back Home After Serving Cross-culturally by Melissa Chaplin is a guided conversation and workbook to help missionaries work individually at their own pace on tackling reverse culture shock and all that re-entry brings. I highly recommend that you gift your returning missionary with a copy. If they take the time to work through it, they will definitely thank you since it will help guide them through their reverse culture shock immensely.
You see, reverse culture shock goes deeper than just certain physical actions and reactions that manifest themselves. It affects the emotional and psychological well-being as well as even cultural implications. You see, adjusting back to American life can be difficult. You no longer value things the same way you once did. You may even have negative feelings toward your own country for a time. You find yourself longing to be back where you were, homesick even for what was – for what you have become accustomed to.
Sometimes it is the expectation, or lack thereof, that catches one off guard when reverse culture shock hits. Keeping in mind and just having the knowledge of its existence can help stave off some of its ill effects. Having good closure at the place you are leaving is extremely important. This involves saying goodbye to friends and favorite places. If this was not possible, it is a good idea to find someone to talk through this with. Personal debriefing may be helpful and/or seeing a counselor.
Another way to elude deep impact from reverse culture shock is to avoid the comparison game. It can be easy to be critical of your home country. If you are constantly comparing your home culture to the old culture, you are only adding insult to injury. The truth is that each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like apples and oranges. There is no real comparison, so it is best to just enjoy each culture all on its own. Over time, your critical spirit will dissipate as you reintegrate and reverse culture shock fades. But it does take time, so give yourself grace.
When family and friends do not understand what reverse culture shock is or much of your cross-cultural experience, it can be isolating even further. That is why it is important to process your thoughts and feelings with someone who does have some knowledge and cross-cultural experience themselves. It is key to share with someone who has been there, who understands and can normalize your symptoms. Because it “is” normal. You “will” come out on the other end. There “is” a light at the end of the reverse culture shock tunnel. You can and will reintegrate back into your home country when it is time. I encourage you, brother and sister, reverse culture shock is a temporary condition. It will pass and know you are not alone.
Trauma. It hits when you least expect it. Triggers surface without warning. Sometimes it’s even a repeat of similar circumstances. It’s been almost eight years ago now since my husband and I went through the trauma of medical care in Africa which ripped open my soul. If you haven’t read my story, you can read it HERE. Sometimes it is hard to believe the reality of the past.
Now I find myself sitting here in South Africa once more as I type, my husband life-flighted from Uganda because of heart problems once more. His heart back in rhythm now, we are waiting for another surgery. But this experience has been so different than the one just eight years ago now. Instead of increased and ever present trauma, we have only relived it with past fears and been given great care each step of the way. We are grateful.
When his heart went out of rhythm over a week ago now, extreme nerves instantly flew within. It took everything in me to hold back the fears of the previous experience. Focus. Think. What is the next step? What is the right step? Travel to Kampala to the place approved by the medical insurance to see a doctor and get that ECG done. Check. Let him try the medication by IV which wouldn’t work. Check. Contact the insurance for a request to fly to South Africa. Check.
Wait! What? The doctor refuses to sign a “Fit to Fly” letter unless medical personnel is present? Our plans are interrupted. The insurance refers us to another agency to prepare for an air ambulance to come get Bob and fly him to South Africa. Oh, my … the fears resurface as a flood in my soul. Questions fly around in my head at what feels like a hundred miles an hour. What if they say he must try the cardio version in Uganda before they will approve the flight? What if they say he must be readmitted to the hospital and try the IV medication longer before considering medical care in South Africa? What if … wait! I must focus. Focus!
God gently reminds me that He was with us before, has been with us all along, and is with me now. He is working ahead of us, behind us, with and in us. People are also praying. Peace returns. I can focus again. I know the drill this time. Wait for approval. Pack a carry-on sized bag for each of us. Get back to the medical facility. Get checked out by the same doctor. Ride an ambulance to the airport and meet up with the medical personnel and pilots to ride a small jet to South Africa. It’s all too familiar. And yet. This time it is also so very different.
This time we know what to anticipate and are aware of the improvements along the way. The medical clinic we went to eight years ago has now moved to another place. Their facilities and equipment are newer. They actually send a nurse with us in the ambulance. Bob is not strapped to a hard board this time but there is actually some padding to lie on. The ambulance driver is smart. He uses his siren but only as necessary. Weaving in and out of traffic, he actually stays on the road the entire way. Even the road system has improved and part of the journey is on an expressway. It’s almost as if the journey ahead has been cleared for us as people give way.
Once we arrive at the airport and enter the jet, it is clear that Bob is being given the highest of medical care once again. We are safe in their hands, delivered into their care for the next five hours of flight. Reaching South Africa, he is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit as expected and we wait until morning for the requested doctor to examine him. After that, it is only a matter of a few hours and his heart is back into regular sinus rhythm once again. Relief. Unbelievable relief floods my soul.
The journey is not over. We are still here in South Africa, now waiting for another ablation surgery. Trauma triggers may still resurface. Nightmares may still ensue. But at the same time, I can relax somehow. We have a level of confidence in the medical care here and are so grateful for it. God’s peace has been so evident throughout the journey this time. He continues to remind us that He is faithful. He is here. He cares for us and He will continue to. Yes, He will.
And I can focus again without so much effort. Focus. Focus on Him. When those fears threaten to return, I will do just that focus. Focus, remember and rely on Him. If you find yourself reliving your trauma on any level, I encourage you to focus on Him and remember His faithfulness to you in the past. And oh, how much He cares for you, too.
If there’s one thing our years in Uganda have shown us is that trauma comes in many forms. The Trauma Healing Institute defines trauma as “heart wounds.” Heart wounds take many different shapes. Sometimes it is as simple as a transition, change. Someone dies suddenly, sometimes violently and too soon. Parents divorce. A thief attempts to rob you. Even the move from one culture to another can cause trauma, sometimes silently and surfaces in later years.
Reliving trauma also surfaces when triggers occur such as a similar sound or smell. Sometimes it is a person that looks like the one who harmed you. Other times it is just a circumstance that unexpectedly mimics part of the previous trauma. Trauma can even be cloaked for years and surface in unsuspecting ways.
As I reflect on the various events of the last decade, I realize that our family has carried more trauma than we ever expected. Leaving home, family, friends and all that was comfortable and known to us was just the beginning of the journey we have faced. We are not extraordinary people. Each carries his/her own experiences of trauma. Each time we share that experience with someone safe, we find healing a little at a time. This has just been our road to walk. Grateful we do not walk it alone, but with a loving Father who cares deeply for us.
My husband, Bob, has had a heart condition ever since the birth of our second child. The doctors actually think he was born with it, but it had gone undetected all of those years. Because of that heart condition, he is at risk for atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia) which has recurred numerous times over the years. It can be mild to very acute, debilitating enough that he couldn’t function to do everyday activities let alone ministry and work. But until he had surgery twice, it was never possible to regulate it with medication. He always had to have a cardioversion performed which is where they shock your heart with electrical current in hopes that it will return to normal heart rhythm. I have lost count of the numbers of times he has had to have this procedure performed over the years.
When his heart went out of rhythm in Uganda a number of years ago now, at that time, there was no diagnostic equipment to determine if there were any blood clots in the heart. This is one of the biggest risks of the heart being out of rhythm. You see, one cannot have a cardioversion if there is a chance of blood clots. It would surely cause a stroke. One is put on blood thinners for 30 days before one can even consider having the cardioversion performed if you cannot rule out blood clots. That was one of the longest months in my husband’s life as his atrial fibrillation was severe. He could barely walk down the hallway from his bed to the couch. Even sitting up for long periods of time was exhausting.
But finally, the 30 days had ended. He was scheduled for the cardioversion at the place that was considered the best and most suitable place in all of Uganda. The doctor came in and explained how the nurse would give the fast acting medication to put him to sleep for a short while, long enough for him to come in and do the procedure before he wakes back up. He left. The nurse came and put the medication in his IV. He was not only drowsy but went to sleep rather quickly. The doctor didn’t return. The nurse didn’t return. I was still in the room. Finally, the doctor comes in with the nurse and fires up the machine that looked like it was at least twenty years old. He puts the paddles on my husband at the lowest charge. He screams so loud that I cannot imagine what is happening. I am frozen, astonished, and cannot speak or move. The doctor says it didn’t work and increases the charge. Bam! My husband screams even louder than the first time. The doctor says it still didn’t work, but he can increase it one more level. Surely this time it would work. Now my husband is groggy and you guessed it. Not only did it NOT work, but his scream is louder than I even thought possible. The whole time I am frozen and cannot peel myself from the wall I am leaning against. The whole situation is truly unbelievable for me as a bystander.
For whatever reason, the doctor didn’t come into the room timely and my husband was coming out of his slumber before the procedure even started. Now what I can’t even imagine further is that the doctor wants to do the whole process over one more time because the first three-some didn’t work. I protest and am able to somewhat coherently tell the doctor that there is no way he is going to do this while my husband is awake. The doctor assures me he will be asleep this time, that it is normal for them to react, AND THEN HE DOES IT!!! I am still in the room. He still yells, but it isn’t nearly as intense in its volume as the first round. And still. No success …
Now because we were in a crisis, I knew I had to hold it all together. I had to be available to help my husband however he might need me to. The next step was for the medical insurance company to arrange to send him by life flight to South Africa where he could get the help he truly needed. This sounds like a rescue (and it was), but not before an ambulance ride that was like a “nightmare from hell” on steroids. He arrived at the airport with intense chest pains just from the ride. No doctor or nurse accompanied us. He was strapped to a hard board in the back and I was given a seat nearby. Off we went with the ambulance siren blaring the entire way. I suppose the driver was being so unreasonable and erratic in his driving because he was in a rush to get us to the airport as quickly as possible. And in Uganda, cars don’t necessarily make way for a coming ambulance and the city is full of jams. That meant we were driving on sidewalks and medians along the way. But we made it, by the grace of God, and surely by the many prayers of His saints!
We were so grateful to get him into the small jet with both the doctor and nurse attending him. The pilot was upset that I showed up with a suitcase as he said I wasn’t supposed to have brought so much with me (it was the size of carry-on) and he wasn’t sure he could take the extra weight. He threatened to not take me with him, but then finally relented. It might have been the look of horror at the thought that I would be left behind. But I had to sit in the very back with the cargo and not move. So that is exactly what I did for the duration of the five hour flight as I watched the medical personnel attend to my husband well. Maybe you can imagine. Each step of the way, I didn’t complain. I was grateful to even be there. I had to be. This was my husband, after all!
Once we landed in South Africa, the care was extraordinary. The ambulance ride was smooth with both the nurse and doctor accompanying us to the hospital. In less than two hours, the procedure was done with newer and more advanced equipment. It worked the first time and his heart was back in regular rhythm (and I was not allowed in the room). He was more than worn out, but his heart was functioning normal again. Praise God! I cannot tell you the relief. But I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t dare let him know how worried I was or how much it was affecting me. I pushed it all down inside and pushed through to maintain stability at all costs. Now to help him recuperate and encourage him all the more.
But nowadays I realize this was traumatic, traumatic for all of our family. It was trauma for me to have gone through and witnessed. Trauma for him FOR SURE as it was his experience directly full of it. It was traumatic for our children as well who watched from a distance and likely didn’t understand completely what was happening. Traumatic for them as they were left behind when we flew to South Africa without them, and they waited and waited to hear if their dad was going to be okay.
This was just one experience over the years that our family has gone through. I don’t tell you this experience to alarm you. Medical equipment has improved in Uganda and it is even possible now to have the test that my husband needed back then. We have each utilized our own defense mechanisms to cope with the trauma. Like I mentioned earlier, each time we share about our trauma a little more healing takes place. I am not bitter about going through this experience, even the different traumatic events that we have faced through the years. I believe God means it to be used for good. His grace is truly sufficient for each of us.
But if you have faced some kind of trauma in your life, maybe realized or not, I encourage you that when it comes to your mind, share it. Find that safe person for you and share it freely. If it brings emotions, release them. Acknowledging it for what it is, now that’s the first step. But then find someone to share it with. Processing it through can bring you freedom from that which you may not have even known you carried. No matter where you live or your walk with Him, I am guessing everyone has experienced some sort of trauma. It’s very real. No one person’s trauma can be compared to another’s trauma as neither is the same. Acknowledge yours, find a safe person to share with, tell God about it, and encounter some freedom. Take that step towards healing from trauma in your life, whatever form it has taken on your journey. You will be better for it! And God will be with you each step of the way.
It’s 3 a.m. and I am just heading to bed. It’s been a long night. The boys have been preparing for their return to boarding school, packing and repacking, weighing and shifting their things, trying to make everything fit. Our trusted taxi driver would be here to pick them up just before 3 a.m. and we all needed to be ready.
But let me back up a bit … you see, this was the end of the holiday break and family time was over. Time to surrender the boys back to boarding school. It happens all too quickly. It’s just part of our life now, a cycle of seeing them and not seeing them. We try to make one trip every term to go see them, but it doesn’t always happen. They are just so far away and yet not so far. It’s an overnight bus ride or about eleven hours by car. Even if you fly, it ends up being a whole day’s worth of travel.
But boarding school has been good for them and we are convinced it is what God has for them for this season of our lives. It, too, will end … in time. We just try to treasure the time that we have whenever we have it. Our time together is often filled with movies, TV shows and games. Many times it is just being in the same room together doing our own thing. But we are together. We are family, after all.
But sending them off to boarding school at the end of this break is different somehow. It is our last one together here in this house in this country of Uganda. You see, the next vacation they have we will be packing up our treasures and selling off those things that we can’t fit into a suitcase or a footlocker to take on a plane. We have spent nearly a decade here of our lives. These boys have lived longer in Uganda than they lived in the states. It has been our home and so it was especially hard to have it come to an end, this last holiday vacation.
But the taxi driver arrived about 2:50 am, loaded them up and was off. So at 3 am, I headed to bed. I wasn’t sure if I could sleep but I would certainly try. The boys had instructions to call if there was any problem at the airport with baggage or whatever. My phone was on and the sound was on high, placed near my head next to the bed. Slumber didn’t come easy, but somehow I seemed to drift off …
But then suddenly, the phone rang. It was 5:55 am and it was my youngest on the phone. No problem with the flight check in or the baggage, but the immigration officer was refusing to let them leave the country! Instantly, adrenalin flowed what seemed like directly to my brain and I was more wide awake than ever. What could be done, I wondered … the immigration officer declared that there was no “entry” stamp in his passport from about five weeks prior when they entered the country which meant that he had entered the country illegally.
Now of course, our sons had not entered the country illegally. They went to the immigration window and handed over their passports when they had arrived at the border just like they were supposed to. Paperwork was passed between them and the passport handed back. If there was any mistake, it was on the immigration officer’s side, but there was no way we could voice that error in fear of upsetting the officer worse. I coached my son as best I could over the phone and just told him we would pray.
I called our trusted taxi driver to ask him to wait at the airport in case he needed to get the boys back. He was still there and no problem. In between thoughts and words, I continually cried out, “Please, Jesus, advocate for my sons!” I reached out to the rest of our immediate family (even though they were all on another continent in different time zones) and also asked them to pray! Then the phone rang again … it was my youngest son once more.
“Mom, he finally found an entry stamp in (my brother’s) passport and so he decided that he would let us through.” I uttered over and over again, “Thank You, Jesus … oh, thank You, Jesus!” As a mother there was little else I could do but pray (being 3 hours away) and the Lord answered by advocating for my sons!!! Hallelujah! What a relief …
Now you might be wondering why I would send my sons alone without accompanying them. You see, we do this every six weeks. Our boys are well versed in how to pass through the border and making sure they have all the correct documents. They are also 17 and 18 years old. They are young men. I also would not have been allowed inside the airport with them anyways and especially not as far as the immigration counter. But I would never have wished such pressure for them from the immigration officer! Someone else’s mistake caused a lot of unnecessary stress and an immigration officer accusing them of doing something wrong.
Now you need to understand that the immigration officer had every right to hold my sons and charge them money without allowing them exit from the country if he had so chosen. He could have continued to accuse them of negligence at the border upon entry and held them accountable. It could have cost us literally thousands of dollars. If he had done that, my boys would have missed their plane. They would have missed their bus on the other end. They wouldn’t have made it back to school on Arrival Day. It was no small thing!
After I hung up the phone, I cannot tell you how many times I thanked the Lord over and over again. I was so, so grateful! As you can imagine, it took some time for my body to calm down and the adrenalin to subside. I tried to go back to sleep and dozed in and out of slumber. Finally, about 7:45 am, I gave up and just got up. By 9:00 am, the boys reached the next airport and by 11:00 am, the bus had picked them up. They were bound for their boarding school and safe in the hands of a dedicated staff member.
I miss them terribly. The house is so very quiet without them … once again. I get to see them next month when I travel to their school for a special event. I cannot wait. It will be my turn next to cross the border and face the immigration officers. I will look at my passport closely to make sure no mistake was made. But I might miss it, too. I sincerely hope not.
Living in a foreign country that is not your own brings some challenges at times. But the call that God has placed on our lives in bringing us here is stronger than the fear of what might happen here. He continually demonstrates His presence with us here whenever things like this take place. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where He wants, at least for now. So we know that He will provide and care for us through whatever comes our way. And today, yes, today … I am grateful for that, perhaps more than you might imagine.
They say that 20/20 is perfect vision. But what is your 20/20 for the new year? It’s hard to believe that it is 2020 already! Have you given any thought to what’s ahead in this new year? Do you ask God each year for a “word” or key “phrase” for the year? Do you have a list of resolutions? Whatever your approach to starting a new year, we would all like to have 20/20 vision for what’s ahead – oh, to see clearly!
If only God would share complete insights about what is ahead or give us a full road-map to success for the year … Perhaps He has given you a glimpse by offering you a ‘word’ or ‘phrase’ to follow for the coming year. Perhaps He has even shown you some of what’s in store. Perhaps you even know some concrete ways He wants to use you. But if you are like me, you still want to know more, thorough details of what’s ahead.
You see, I can be impatient. I can be near-sighted. I can get distracted. I like to follow clear check-lists and how-to’s, all based on my goals and objectives. I can allow myself to get frustrated when these things are not clearly outlined before me. During these times, I have been known to even abandon those things that I already know to do – at least for a time. You see, if I allow myself to get overwhelmed or stressed out, I just want to stop for awhile. Take a break. I get stuck!
The only way for me to get started again is to focus. Yes, focus! If I had not taken my focus off what was the aim was, I wouldn’t have lost my focus to begin with. Sounds a bit backwards, but it’s true. I bet you can guess where my focus should lie … and remain! Yes, I must focus on Him, the One who has made all things new. Focusing on Him makes things come back into view clearly. I may not know all of the answers to the questions flinging around in my mind, but when I focus on Him, I don’t need to. I can see what I need to see for that moment.
When I forget to focus on “Him,” and instead focus on my to do list or goals, that is actually when I get overwhelmed and stressed out. It makes sense, but it often creeps up on me. I am having great quiet times with Him and remembering to speak with Him throughout the day. I am playing praise and worship music regularly. I am doing all of the things that help me keep my focus. But if I allow myself to break my routine, my habits, that is when my focus begins to wane. They say it takes 21 times of repetition to make a new habit, but 1 time of missing that repetition to break that habit. Oftentimes, one must start over multiple times before the new habit is formed. I have found so much truth in this in my own life.
It is good to remind myself that to focus on Him is to have 20/20 vision. While it doesn’t necessarily mean I have all of the answers, I do know what to do next. I just need to do the next thing that He has revealed to me, the thing that He has given light to. I need to be faithful to follow what He has revealed to me. I don’t need to worry over what I cannot see ahead. I just need to take the next step that He shows me, just one step at a time, and keep focusing on Him.
What next step has He revealed to you? What light has He given to you? Is he asking you to draw close to Him, to focus more fully on Him? Perhaps this is the one and only resolution that each of us needs to make as followers of Him – to focus on Him. If your habit of time with Him or habits of how you continually connect with Him has been waning, perhaps there is only one real resolution. Rebuild that habit that connects you back with Him. Yes, focus. Focus until you see clearly just the next thing that He has shown you. Focus and have 20/20 vision for 2020. Pick up the challenge!
Before we moved to Uganda, I had no idea how cultures would collide in my heart! Perhaps I should say Africa invades my heart in just about every area of my life. It might surprise you the many ways. It surprises me!
I love music and now there are certain songs that immediately draw my heart to Africa. For instance, “Africa” by Toto will always tug deeply. And then there’s this song on You Tube that my daughter sent me this week during Christmas which sent my heart soaring for Africa called “12 Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser. It just sounds like a normal Christmas song you’ve heard before, but listen to it and see! Check out especially from 1:30 to the end HERE. It will draw you towards Africa also. One that might surprise you is “Feliz Navidad.” I will never listen to that song without remembering Africa again. During the Christmas season, it is easy to hear it playing in town on any given day in December especially.
I am not sure that I can ever listen to Kenny Rogers again without thoughts of Africa either. I have taken many night bus rides from Uganda to Kenya and back with Kenny Rogers’ songs blaring pretty much the whole way. Somehow it surprised me as I would have expected to hear Ugandan or Kenyan music instead. But I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that each of us have our own individual preferences. Easy Coach bus drivers apparently prefer country music.
Then there’s the desire to slow down and put people as priority. Africa, especially Uganda, has taught me so much on this plain. Hurrying and scurrying to and fro is difficult to do here. Instead of checking off items on my to do list, it is much easier to slow down. Stop and greet my friend and neighbor. Linger and visit a little while longer. The to do list can keep. I wish I would have learned this many, many years ago.
I discover many ways Africa has invaded my life whenever I go back to the states for a visit. Instead of walking/driving on the right side of the road, I find my tendency is to go left – even in the shopping aisles at the grocery store. It seems I am forever turning on my windshield wipers instead of the blinkers that I am reaching for when driving down the road. Responding to others in conversation with my eyebrows frequently before remembering that I am not in Africa anymore is also a recurrent response.
Shopping at Walmart or Costco is overwhelming nowadays. So many choices and flavors for just about everything. Who knew that my favorite Wheat Thins is now called “original” and mixed in the middle of umpteen different flavors. And then there’s cereal. Oh my, I can’t even talk about cereal … and it’s not just food. Can you imagine how many choices there are when shopping just for underwear? How does one decide quickly when there are so many options?
Storms that seem unequal to other places I have lived also welcomed me. Many storms are what I call “Africa dumps.” It’s not just rain, but it’s a huge downpour. It’s as if the heavens open up all at once and just “dump” its contents in a very short period of time. I will never forget the sounds of heavy rain and in the midst of it huge clatters of thunder coupled with lightening, all indicating the storm is overhead and not at a distance. One of my favorite parts of these storms is that they often came in the afternoon or in the middle of the night. If it was an afternoon rain, it wasn’t long afterwards that the sun would shine brightly. And in the night, the calm that followed afterwards lulled one to sleep peacefully.
During and sometimes afterwards, storms would bring power outages. Not that this was the only time for power outages, but at least one would know to expect an outage. I think that any time the power goes out in the states or a light-switch isn’t working, I will forever be reminded of when I lived in Africa. During our ten years here, I could never even begin to count the number of times the power has gone out or even the number of hours. I never even knew what load-shedding was or that it existed before living here. If there’s not enough power to go around, you basically share it on a scheduled usage basis. I also never worried about power surges, although we were always taught to use power protectors for all of our electronics.
Of course, there’s also the water. I never filtered my water or worried about drinking other people’s water. I freely drank from water fountains and the tap without a second thought. Now when I go back to the states, it doesn’t feel right to brush my teeth with tap water let alone drink water that hasn’t been at least filtered. Daily I was reminded here in Uganda that water is a precious commodity that not all enjoy freely and/or easily. It was a rare day that I could drive somewhere and not see people carrying water in jerry cans. Will I be able to go back to taking water for granted again? I hope not. Hopefully water will remind me to pray for my Ugandan neighbors and friends when I am back in the states.
Yes, for sure, Africa is forever in my heart. It’s not just the place, it’s the people. It’s their ways and their priceless lessons that are ingrained in me. May I never forget. May I forever be changed. May Africa never leave my heart and always remain within.
Before I moved to Uganda, I had no idea how convenient motorcycle taxis could be. Here they are referred to as bodas or boda bodas. But after a decade of living here, not only have I seen them as handy transportation, but I have often relied on them during times when my car is either in the shop or busy with my husband.
When we go to the states for a visit and only have one vehicle, I find myself feeling impatient that I cannot just go to the nearest street corner and get going wherever I need to at that moment. You see, boda bodas are everywhere in the town that I live. We stay on the outskirts of town and yet, they are even here. You can hail one by merely nodding from a distance or raising your hand in the air. They are always on the look out for a new fare.
And it isn’t just their availability that make them so valuable. They are reasonable to hire. You can go across town for about 70 cents and then get back home for the same. If you are “tough,” you can get a fare for even less like the locals. But, for us, 70 cents suits us just fine and we don’t mind paying a bit more than my national neighbors. After all, it’s supporting local business.
Even more than their affordability is their resourcefulness. You see, you can take just about anything on a boda boda! Stacks and stacks of trays of eggs. Dozens of chickens. A goat. A cow! I have seen multiple people on one – six at once. Piles of charcoal bags. A huge fish with its tail dragging the ground. I have seen another motorcycle. Stacks and stacks of plastic chairs. A living room suite (couch and two chairs)! I have even seen them towing another motorcycle. It is truly amazing what one can get on a boda boda! I have posted several pictures here for you to see some examples.
It never ceases to amaze me the resourcefulness of the Ugandan people. They use what they have very well. And if it’s a boda boda for transportation that you have to use and can afford, then that is what is used to transport whatever the need! You see them rain or sunshine. Sure, less of them transport in the rain, but some even have umbrellas over themselves to protect from the rain and sun overhead.
Now, some of you safety gurus may be wondering if it’s safe. Well, very few actually have helmets let alone offer them to their passengers, although nowadays you can see some around. But it is not unusual to see one wipe out. It is also not unusual to have a close call yourself with one while driving your own vehicle. You see, boda bodas aren’t really regulated here, at least not in our town. It might surprise you to find how few actually carry a driver’s permit endorsed for motorcycle driving. One might even wonder how many have actually been given driving lessons.
Boda boda drivers dart in and around traffic. Part of their versatility is their ability to get through tight spaces in the midst of traffic jams. When other vehicles are sitting still, boda bodas can maneuver on through. It is not unusual to see people get out of a car they are riding in and hop on a boda boda to get to their appointments on time if traffic gets stuck. You can see boda bodas driving in between cars, down side walks, and yes, even going the wrong direction just to get where their fare has requested. They take short cuts to arrive at their destination quickly and get on to the next fare.
So you can imagine that safety is not of the utmost concern for most. Some times as you are driving down the road in your car, it feels like you are driving in the midst of a “sea of bodas.” They part as your vehicle approaches – or not. They are on both sides of you as you move forward. If you want to turn off, you need to look in both side-view mirrors and still look around, giving plenty of time with your blinker (called an indicator here) to show that you want to turn. Even then, there is no guarantee that the boda driver will see your turn signal. So it is really an art to be a part of the flow of traffic here and show with your vehicle what your intention is as you turn.
But one thing that puzzles me about boda boda traffic is that it seems like they don’t really have their own place on the road. You see, if they are driving down the road and a car approaches behind them, it is often assumed that they will “give way” by getting over to the side of the road in order to let the car pass on by. True, they often are not going as fast as the car that approached behind them, but sometimes they are. A car will beep its horn and not reduce its speed as it approaches, expecting the motorcycle to be on the side of the road by the time it reaches.
Another thing that might surprise you is that they often do not stop at intersections for traffic lights or stop signs. Many times it is just preferred to not stop, but other times, it is purely easier and more convenient. If you have a heavy and full load, to stop may mean it will be hard to get going again. I can understand why many choose to drive on through. It is a common sight though to see a boda driver proceed on through a stop sign or intersection without looking both directions. I am amazed at their apparent peripheral vision, but I have also seen many near crashes as a result of this practice.
So while the system of boda boda taxis may not appear to be perfect, they are certainly a vital part of the economy here in Uganda. They give many a way to earn money and offer a service unequaled to those requiring a lift. Take whatever you like or need. Expect the unexpected. Perhaps you would like to try a ride yourself? Just prepare yourself … and maybe bring your own helmet? You will be in for the ride of your life! Come, enjoy!