“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” -Psalm 32:8
It’s approaching 2am here in Uganda on Sunday morning and I’ve spent the past couple hours reflecting on the day that God has taken me through. I’ve always been a person who has been very introspective and maybe sometimes I can spend a bit too much time thinking and analyzing my life. I often want to my life to fit together perfectly. I want to have things in order. I want to know the agenda and what is expected of me, so I can follow it and do it. Sometimes, I can struggle finding happiness because I think about the past- especially when I think about the good memories that I no longer have to opportunity to experience. And sometimes, I can struggle finding happiness because I think about the future: whatever it may or may not hold.
I’ve said before that I wish I could be living three lives simultaneously. There’s so much I want to do and there’s so much I want to experience. I wonder what my life would be like if I was still in Omaha working as a social worker, living on the corner of Park Avenue and Leavenworth, going to Simple Free. Then I wonder, what if I was going to grad school at University of Iowa. Getting my Masters of Social Work has always been on my personal radar and there’s no better place to do that than in Iowa City. But God gives me one life on this earth before I spend eternity with Him. Former President Jimmy Carter said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
I think when you live half the world away from where you were born and raised, it can be natural to ask yourself if what you are doing is truly making a difference. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and stand on my balcony looking out the hills of Uganda, I need to take a few deep breaths and absorb the reality of my situation. I tell myself, “Yes, Ryan, God brought you all the way to Kampala, Uganda and today, yet again, you’ve woke up in this third world country.” The air smells nothing like Nebraska. The sounds are nothing like the midtown Omaha. I walk into my kitchen and pour myself a glass of juice. Even as I take a sip, I recognize this isn’t “normal”. I’m drinking a glass of fresh mango and passion fruit juice. These fruits grow like crazy in the hills, valleys, and fields of Uganda. That is definitely not what is growing in the fields of Iowa. I’m regularly challenged by President Carter’s quote. Am I doing “whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference” as my faith in Christ demands? Dozens of my friends and family (and even people who were once complete strangers before they began supporting me) are making monthly financial sacrifices for me to serve God in Uganda. To an extent, I think it’s probably a healthy exercise to question what I’m doing here.
Through it all, God’s voice is very clear. When I read Psalm 32 today, I recognized that what God tells me every morning when I question living in Uganda is very similar to what God spoke to David, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” I suppose that makes sense. David was speaking to the same God that I communicate with today. Recently, a missionary friend of mine forwarded me a relevant Oswald Chambers devotional in reference to Acts 20:24. One of the paragraphs read, “There is no choice of service, only absolute loyalty to Our Lord’s commission; loyalty to what you discern when you are in closest contact with God. If you have received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, you will know that the need is never the call: the need is the opportunity. The call is loyalty to the ministry you received when you were in real touch with Him. This does not imply that there is a campaign of service marked out for you, but it does mean that you will have to ignore the demands for service along other lines.”
Often when I sit down and write my supporters or friends, I can over-communicate the struggles. In fact, my previous blogs on Simple Free were about some kind of personal struggle, frustration, or negative event. I’ll share news story after news story about Uganda or other parts of our world that I think needs our social attention and share very little about the successes. I can do a better job expressing my daily satisfaction in ministry and telling you about the joy I receive when serving God.
So, today, I write to you about– today: Saturday, March 12, 2011. It was a very typical day in ministry here in Uganda. [Yup, you haven’t even hit the heart of my writing yet. Go grab yourself glass of from concentrate Minute Maid orange juice. I’m making a run to the kitchen to get a glass of fresh mango and passion fruit juice.]
The whole tone of my day was so overwhelmingly positive. Today, I felt like I made a difference. I could try harder to make that last sentence sound a little more humble, but I’m not going to. Today, I felt like I was where I am supposed to be. And today, I felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I think I’d probably feel all of these ways more often if I spent less time reflecting on the past and thinking about the future and instead, focusing on the reality that God has for me in the moment.
As soon as I woke up, I headed off to the “home” of two young adults on the Ravens Ministries Youth Empowerment Program. I put home in parenthesis because technically, Ritah and Harriet are homeless. These two young women sleep on the floor of their church. Their church is a simple rectangular structure, about the size of a quarter of a basketball court. Iron sheets on the sides and roof. There are a few cut open spaces on the iron sheets with wooden planks across them so there can be some ventilation in the church. The floor of the church is mostly dirt and gravel. As permanent as the building is and as proud of this church the locals are, in the United States, this structure definitely would not even be good enough to be considered a tree house or a temporary fort for the average child. That’s not the point- the point is seeing the hope in these two girl’s faces. They came on to our program at the start of this year in a desperate situation. No job. No home. Little education. And no obvious sign of this changing. Now, both Ritah and Harriet have started school this year through financial support from Ravens Ministries.
Ritah choose to study Cosmetology at the YMCA Comprehensive Institute and Harriet choose to study Nursery Teaching at the YWCA Mirembe Girls Vocational Centre. In a few years, each of these young women will have a college certificate. Not only that, but they’ll be able to get a job, which will provide income to have a home. They see their lives changing for the better right before their eyes and God has given me the opportunity to be a part of it. Every week, all the Ravens young adults come to my house for a Bible study. And on a regular basis, I meet the youth at their homes or at their schools. What a privilege God has given me! I get to spiritually counsel and disciple people in a highly transformational part of their life. I don’t want to over-dramatize their situation too much. But, seeing where these two young ladies are heading is exciting. Hearing them laugh is rewarding. Hearing them talk about how much they enjoy learning is energizing. And more than anything, hearing them praise God for the opportunity that He has given them is a reminder to me, I am serving Him the way He wants me to right now.
After I visited with Ritah and Harriet for a few hours, I went off to the other side of the city to visit Moses at his boarding school. Moses, 16, is a child on Dwelling Places’ program. I worked at Dwelling Places for 5 months in 2008 and formed a close relationship with him. At Dwelling Places they rehabilitate street children in Uganda. Through the ongoing support of donors who finance my work in Uganda, I have been able to sponsor Moses’s education. Even though Moses is 16, he still has 6 more years of secondary education to complete before he can receive his equivalent of a high school diploma. This is because of all the years Moses was not going to school when he was going through a difficult childhood.
About once a term, boarding schools in Uganda have a visitation day for their kids. This allows their parents to come visit them at school. They put on shows full of tribal dancing and singing, show off their dormitory (a small room with about 60 boys sleeping in it on triple bunks), and show off their classroom. Moses lost both of his parents at a young age- a total orphan. Today, I was the only one who came to visit Moses at his school. That was one of my purposes for today. I wish I could have photographed Moses’s smile when I walked in and he saw me. Immediately, he was reminded that he was loved, valued, and appreciated– Moses was remembered. And what a privilege it was that God used me to be that reminder for Moses! How rewarding and how satisfying for me. I got to see his classroom and dormitory; I was even able to meet Moses’s teacher, headmaster, and director of the school! Moses and I were able to talk about a whole number of things going on in his life. As any 16 year old boy, he had many of issues to discuss. I’m happy I could spend a few hours with Moses on his school’s special day.
And now, I get to share with you about Ronnie, another young adult on the Ravens Ministries Youth Empowerment Program. Like Ritah and Harriet, Ronnie came on to our program at the start of 2011. Ronnie is going to begin studies at UMCAT School of Journalism and Communication later this year. Ronnie definitely has the voice for radio. He desires to be on the radio and being a voice for positive social change in his community. He has big goals, big dreams, a whole lot of passion about radio journalism. Ronnie and I met up in the evening to watch the FA Cup Quarterfinal match between Manchester United and Arsenal. Without boring you with too much soccer information, you’re going to have to trust me- this was a huge match. Ronnie is a die-hard Arsenal fan and I’m a Manchester United freak. Despite our friendship, there’s still a bitter hate for each other when it comes to soccer. Unfortunately for us, 15 minutes before kickoff the power went off the part of Kampala we were in. This isn’t unusual as the city regularly does rolling blackouts to manage the available supply . That meant we had to hop on boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) and race across town to find another place that had power so we could watch the match. We eventually found a place that had over 250 fanatics watching on a small screen. Ronnie and I quickly took our seats in the back. Long story short- my team won and after our second goal, I am happy to report I ran in front of the television screen and danced in front of everyone. They all cheered as I danced. All the Manchester United fans, that is. I’m sure a dancing white person in front of hundreds of Africans is quite the sight. A bit attention seeking, I know, but I’ve never claimed to be otherwise!
After the soccer game, we put our team differences aside and Ronnie came home with me as we’re going to church together in the morning. He was so eager to tell me that he went in for a voice test at one of the local radio stations in Kampala and it went very well. Since he’s applied and been accepted to one of the better journalism schools in the country, he’s likely to get a job even while he’s in school. I made him spaghetti and meat sauce- a first for him. As we ate dinner, Ronnie began to open up about his current life situation. Despite certain challenges, he is very excited about his future. I thanked God for the quality time I was able to spend with Ronnie and for the opportunity to be a part of his life. Again, I knew I was right were I was supposed to be.
Finally, I want to thank all of my supporters in the United States for allowing me to do what I am doing. I hope that you all feel like you’re a part of it. Together, I am confident we are making a difference. Your prayers, your finances, and your emotional support are helping me find my way here in Uganda.