January 21, 2013

A New Year, A Life Changed Pt 1.

A simpler way of life.
Photo credit: Ernest Armendariz
It's been a little over a week since Michael and I returned from leading a Visiting Orphans team of 25 to Uganda and Kenya. I am finding it incredibly difficult to reconcile the emotions and the moments that I experienced. I can't seem to find the words to really relay what this team went through.
I go on lots of short-term trips, it's part of my job title. But this trip was unlike any I have been on. It has been the hardest one for me to adjust back to normalcy...when really I don't want things to go back to normal. God is doing a lot in my heart right now and it will be a little while before I really work through that process. 

I believe many hearts were awakened, identities in Christ revealed, the tangible love of God renewed, and there was a bond created with the team that was orchestrated by God. I was singing this song in church today and it really spoke to what I experienced:

"Spirit of the living God 
Come fall afresh on me,
Come awaken me from my sleep.
Blow through the caverns of my soul,
Pour in me to overflow, to overflow."

We experienced the reality of poverty and the tension between culture and Christ. We felt darkness and were physically stretched in major ways. And yet we encountered the joy of the Lord, the hope of Jesus, and love that never fails. We met Jesus in a new way and God used this team to demonstrate what a community of Christ looks like. 

The team started on a high note at the Atlanta airport. One team member said it best: 

"It was the craziest feeling as soon as we arrived! Everyone was hugging, laughing, shaking hands, and swapping stories. "Fellowship" is what came to mind instantly. This is the body of Christ in action. We knew of each other from a distance and had heard of the things each person was involved with and/or doing, but we didn't officially know them until that moment. Still there was a kindred Spirit whom I call the Holy Spirit. What else could bring together so many strangers so quickly?" (Conrad Meier)

 We were family from moment one. Seriously, it was like meeting long lost friends. I truly love each of them. Every person had a significant purpose on this team.  
God took strangers and unified us.
The Holy Spirit broke us of our entitlements and control.
We laid this trip at the feet of Jesus and said, "Your will be done...this is Your trip, not ours."
So that is how our trip began. This is the atmosphere that continued with us everywhere we went.
Now I'll share about Uganda :)....
Day 1
Photo credit: Linda McKinney
Ekubo Ministries: 
So this trip started off, after 24 hours of travel and a short night of sleep, by driving a few hours north of Kampala to the small village of Bugabo. We were working with George and Christie and their ministry, Ekubo ("The Way" in Lugandan). These 3 days broke me of control. I threw the itinerary and 'agenda' out the window. Any expectations we had, we let them go. We experienced what it means to simply 'be'. 

Part of living in the bush was the amazing opportunity to sleep in the village. The team stayed in an almost finished baby home. We packed some sheets and we slept on mattresses on the floor. We strung jump ropes everywhere so we could hang mosquito nets. It was the ultimate slumber party, snoring and all ;)
The walk to our house
But seriously...it was magical
photo credit: Carol Duarte
Our bathroom was an outhouse (hole in the ground) near the baby home. But you had to be escorted at night because the path to the bathroom was next to the start of a septic tank, i.e. a hole so big you would get seriously hurt if you fell into it. We even had guards in the bush with bow and arrows guarding us at night. What an adventure! And we loved it!!
The team listened as George and Christie shared about the work they are doing in the village - and they are doing big things. We got a glimpse of the hardship of ministry. Working for Visiting Orphans, I am aware of the reality of ministry, but it was good for the facade and glamour of missions to be removed. Ministry is hard. People disappoint. We need God. Our hope is found in Christ alone.  This is where we receive rest and strength. 
-We had the opportunity to minister 1-on-1 with the youth in the village.
-Provide and serve a feast to 200+ kids
-Walk through the village and meet with the community. Hear their stories and pray with them.
Ernest praying with 2 youth.
Photo credit: Christie Magera
Michael singing and dancing with the children.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
Abby, Sarah and Katie hanging out with the little ones.
Photo credit: Abby Kraft
Teryll and Chelsea learning the art of Chapatis
Photo credit: Teryll Sacks

Peeling potatoes.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
The team had a day of doing whatever we felt called to do. I sat on the front steps of Christie's home and watched as the team: sanded bed frames, hauled water, served in the baby cottage, went on walks through the village, made chapatis, peeled potatoes, played soccer and simply talked to people in the village. 
It was a day of being. We had a small taste of what life in the village would be like: the good, the hard and the beautiful!
George and Christie from Ekubo Ministries
Return Ministries:
After our 3 days at Ekubo, the next two days were spent at Return Ministries. Return is a community-based ministry working with over 300 children in Kampala. It is run by the amazing Samuel and Sarah. We were the first team to stay at their guest house. It was luxury compared to the bush and we had a little whiplash at first.
The team served alongside the ministry by providing and serving meals and loving on the precious kids.
Samuel and Sarah
My highlight of this ministry was our 'holy ghost' moment. The team got up on stage and started our VBS program. We were singing a song with an average amount of enthusiasm. When all of a sudden two of the team members jumped on the drums and something happened. Conrad, our team Christian rapper, started rapping, drums were going, Michael does the worm, and a dance off ensues. We spend the next 3 hours dancing and singing with the kids. They taught us a song and we sung it on repeat: "Whatcha gonna do when you get to heaven? I'm gonna have some fun! Fun, spiritual fun!" Joy, dancing, laughter - a glimpse of heaven. It was unbelievable. I have never experienced such pure joy. A really special moment.
Right before the party broke out!
I could have danced all day!
Photo credit: Sarah Crawford
We adore these children!
Photo credit: Carla Geiser

Michael made new friends. 
Cleaning dishes after lunch.
Photo credit: Carla Geiser

The Haven:
The last bit of Uganda was spent at The Haven. A day of rest. It is so important to take time to process and recharge when in ministry or you will burn out.
This place was breathtaking. It was on the Nile. Absolutely gorgeous. We had some quality team time here.
Photo credit: Conrad Meier

These guys got engaged!!!
Chelsea and Aaron officially "official" :)
And this special girl shared her testimony and got baptized in the Nile. One of my highlights!

Praying for Abby right before being baptized.
Photo credit: Ernest Armendariz

This trip was an ebeneezer for so many people. It was a moment in their life that signified a change. This trip was covered in restoration and redemption. God brought a bunch of sinners and people with pasts and revealed His love for us. Lives were transformed forever. Our time at The Haven was a time to reflect on that change and the way God is working in our lives.
We spent time around a bonfire worshiping, basking in God's presence and praying off entitlements. It was a mid-trip prayer to lay this trip back at God's feet. This trip is God's for His glory, not ours. We continued to experience fresh revelations of God as we prepared to drive to Kenya.
Our trip was only half way done and we were full (or so we thought). 
And there was a baby bush back named Milo...be still my heart :)

Part 2...to be continued....


  1. wow. love this merrill. i know this feeling and it's totally something from the holy spirit. you & michael look full of joy of the spirit! love what you do friend! press on!