Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. -James 1:27

Monday, October 30, 2017

Long Overdue Last Memories in Uganda

October 10th marked one year since I left Uganda. That is hard for my brain to wrap around. One year since saying goodbye my other family. One year since I last hugged any of my kiddos. One year. Wow.

I have heard from a number of missionaries that re-patriate to their passport country that they miss their "other" home everyday and think about life there everyday, even one or two years later (or more). I have found this to be so true. It is a weird mix of emotions - being totally confident, happy, and peaceful being in Texas (because this is where God has me now) but also longing for my other home and missing the life I once lived.

Honestly, I have been working on this video throughout this year. But the reality is that it was just too hard to finish. During the earlier months, I was watch clips with tears streaming down my face. I love these kids!! I am so thankful for taking the time to write this blog during my life in Uganda. I am so thankful I was able to write stories and show photos of some of my treasured goodbyes. And now I am happy that I have been able to piece together some of my final memories at Lulwanda that were had during the school holiday. These memories are treasures to me.

(I wonder if had the courage to finish this video, after a year's delay, because I have a ticket in hand for a return visit in January - knowing I get to see my kids again and create more memories soon!)

Last Holiday in Uganda from Natalie Rolfe on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rejoice! He has Risen!

“May we never lose our wonder. May we never lose our wonder. Wide-eyed and mystified, let me be just like a child- starting at the beauty of my King... You are beautiful in all your ways.”

This song has echoed in my head all week. As I took the time to rest and listen to it on repeat today, my heart was humbled. Tears rolled down my cheek as I reflected on this day, the day after Jesus’ horrific crucifixion. This day that was the Sabbath day in Jewish history. I pondered in my reading of the account in in Mark whether anyone was allowed by Jewish law to visit Jesus’ grave on this “in - between” day? I can imagine the hopelessness that His followers felt. The Jews had grand plans for their Messiah to come as a mighty warrior. The Messiah’s followers had grand thoughts of continuing to follow this revolutionary (in thinking and living) leader. And now he is dead in a tomb. I am reminded of a verse in Proverbs that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12). I know this feeling. I can relate to the grief Jesus’ followers felt as they saw Jesus tortured, hung on a cross and then dead, wondering, “What now?”.

During this Holy Week, I recall my most vivid mental images from my amazing trip to Israel last year. It is a collection of these photos

From the top of the Mt. of Olives, Jesus travelled down into the garden.

In the Garden of Gethsemane: NEVERTHELESS...

Looking out from the garden you see the wall of Jerusalem
and the peak of the Islamic site, The Dome of the Rock, where the Temple once stood. 

A possible portrayal of what the stone in front of the tomb looked like.

Based on historical and geographic facts, this is the possible tomb where Jesus was buried.

And the Hope for all mankind lies in the truth of these words!

I can picture Jesus walking the downhill path from the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. As He prayed in the garden, He overlooked walls of Jerusalem and the Temple, knowing that soon He would be led, in mockery, to and through the city, to His death. Jesus felt the weight of this- And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). NEVERTHELESS...

As I have re-read the Easter story this week, I am also reminded of Jesus’ words in John 10:18: “No one takes [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down voluntarily. I am authorized and have power to lay it down and to give it up, and I am authorized and have power to take it back. This command I have received from My Father.” No one took Jesus by force- at any moment He could have called on all of Heaven’s armies… But because of love, Jesus chose to give himself up to death, in my place. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd who (voluntarily) laid down His life for His sheep.

The story of Easter makes all the difference! Without the resurrection, my faith would mean nothing. And therefore, just as Mary Magdalene ran from the empty tomb to tell the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”, I too proclaim the same thing! I have seen the Lord! I have seen that He rescues, redeems, and restores. I have seen the transformation of hope that is only accomplished by the presence of Jesus. I have seen that He brings peace that passes all understanding. I have seen that He gives freedom and joy. I have seen Him do the impossible! Though the enemy comes (and is here now) to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus has come to give life (resurrected life for you and me) and LIFE TO THE FULLEST!

May we never lose our wonder. May we never lose our wonder. Wide-eyed and mystified, let me be just like a child- starting at the beauty of my King... You are beautiful in all your ways!

He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Farewell Part 2

By far the thing I miss most about Uganda are the relationships. Relationships with my kids, relationships with the staff, and relationships with the missionary community and my dear friends. The Mbale missionary community is like no other community that I've lived in- probably because we all come with the same common goal of loving God and loving other people. We all have a heart to serve and the commonality of being a foreigner in another culture.

Saying goodbye to all these relationships was not easy. What will they look like 8613 miles away? How will they change as we are no longer involved in every day life together? These are questions I'm still dabbling with but what I did leave Mbale with left were many sweet goodbyes.

Outside of the farewell party at the children's home there were a few other treasured memories. The first was the farewell party that Bobbi and Megan so beautifully organized for me. The missionary community gathered at our favorite local dive, Endiro. The place was decorated in with some great Pinterest wins and there were over 60 people who attended. 

Praying as the evening got started.

My heart was beyond blessed to go table by table chatting with people and remembering the special memories held with each of them. 

Miranda, Bobbi, and Richard Trull

Brianne, Elyse, Yusuf, Nada, Manna

Leland, Gina, Carol, Siham, Gloria

Emma, Meagan, Rhonda

Anna, Callie, Chris, Sarah

Chad, Eric, Kira, Katie, Lauren, Dave

Emma, Megan, Ryan

Tiffany, Ty, Al, Christi

Jill and JP

Martha, Bryce, Erika, Bobby

Everyone there left me with sweet notes and prayers for my future, but one of the most special gifts of the evening was a beautiful cake, made just for me, buy one of the missionary kids, Riley. As a budding baker, she layered three different color sheet cakes to resemble national flag of Uganda and personalize the fondant icing – which is not easy to make in the humid weather of Uganda. It was, by far, the most special cake that I have ever had and she was so excited to show it to me! 

So special (and so yummy).

Look at their faces :)

Black, Yellow and Red for the Uganda flag!

The evening ended with the men departing and the ladies remaining for one of my favorite games… BUNKO!!

Gloria, Gina, Bobbi, Anna, Siham, Lauri, Me, Katie, Callie, Nada, Rhonda, Elyse, Manna, Megan, Tiffany, Sarah

Another treasured memory marking my goodbyes was the prayer picnic that my Ugandan prayer partner, Favour, and her friend Jamimah took me on. To understand just how special this was, you have to know that I funded most of the outings that involved my Ugandan friends throughout the years. Not because they're not generous, nor because they didn't want to spend the money, but usually I would insist because I knew that money is limited and would go for more valuable things like school fees, food, or rent. But this day, Favour and Jamimah insisted on hosting me- from the planning to the paying.  We took the hour long journey out to Sipi Falls where we could overlook the gorgeous iconic waterfall of the Eastern region. They had planned ahead and brought hot water, tea leaves, boiled eggs, popcorn, and biscuits. This was truly going to be a picnic! We spent the whole day there, enjoying one another's company, laughing, sharing stories of the past, lifting up prayers for the future, and just being in the presence of the Lord.

Favor, Jamimah, Me

At one point the fog started creeping in. It was awesome! We could see the fog moving right in front of us and coming closer and closer towards us until it completely covered the waterfall with no possible chance of seeing through it. We reflected how often this reflects our walk with the Lord. Too commonly, when we can't see what's ahead of us we forget what we know is actually there or we may start to waver in the promises of the Lord. Sometimes it seems impossible to believe that that next thing is through the “fog”. But in an instant the winds can change direction and the fog quickly drifts away and the beauty is before our eyes once again. All three of us were so blessed by this is a cool picture of a spiritual truth.

Before we could leave the place I wanted to make sure that these precious ladies had a memory they wouldn't forget. Having been to this location before I told them to trust me and follow me as I led them down a small pathway down the slope of the mountainside until we reached a swing that over hung a slight cliff on the mountain. I swung first to show them how to do it and then encourage each of them to try one by one. Thrills and shrills of nervousness and excitement filled the air and Favour even exclaimed, “From my childhood I have never swung. This is my very first time to be a child. This is the day I'll never forget.”

My final week was filled with final memories. Special dinners with special friends- like Betty and Favour, farewell at church, our last game night, and dinner over at Sarah's house with a surprise evening outing to the rooftops overlooking a Mbale.

My sweet sister-in-Christ, Dean, who attends Uni and makes some cash by helping me in my house.

Farewell at Mbale Presbyterian Church
Sweet time with Sarah (and Chris- thanks for the photos)

Sarah's baby, Moses. (p.c.  christopher mullen)

And there was even a slumber party.

For some crazy reason I thought it would be a good idea to have all nine of the children who were escorting me to the airport (plus Favour) come and spend the night at my house the night before I left. This seemed fine (and even fun) until my panic mode set in when I was trying to do the weight shifting and rearranging of my luggage. I had asked the kids to leave me alone in my room so I could sort it all out and they should just pretend as if they lived here all by themselves and I wasn't there. I needed some time without them calling, “Teacha, Teacha”. But slowly, one by one, they started migrating into my room, sitting on my bed, listening to music  and looking at photos. As the room got more crowded I looked up from my luggage and asked, “Can I help all of you with something? I just need a few more minutes.” Then Samwiri sweetly looked at me and said, “Teacha, we’ve come in here to ask how we can help you because we know that you are stressed and we don't want you to be stressed. We want to help you.”  

Favour, Josephat, Sarah, Betty, Norah (sleeping), Joel, Davis, James, Samwiri (and Egulasi-not in photo)

Isn't that the sweetest?! But the reality was it was more helpful to have them out of my room, so I sent them away, again, and finally finish up. The rest of the evening was sweet- gathered together for dinner and seeing them all huddled in my empty living room with sleeping pallets on the floor and rooms filled to full capacity. That final slumber party is a treasured memory. 

We woke up super early the next morning, around 4:30 AM, to make sure everyone was awake had their teeth brushed and we're ready to be out the door by 5:30, when Enoch arrived. Loading the trunks on top of the van is when the reality hit me and tears couldn't stop flowing from my eyes. I have to admit, the first hour of our journey out of Mbale was really rough. Tears filled almost everyone’s eyes and occasional sobs could be hard. These couldn’t be our last memories, so I prayed that the Lord would change the atmosphere in the van into one of joy and He did! The remainder of the ride was filled with stories of old days and memories of the past, silly jokes made up on the spot, commentary about the happenings that they were seeing on the road-side, and games on my phone. 

When we reached Entebbe we headed to one of the newer malls, Victoria Mall. I wanted to show them a few things that they hadn’t yet experienced. As we walked in, their eyes were big seeing such a modern shopping place. 

I told them I wanted to take them on the elevator and pointed in the direction to the big glass box on the wall moving up-and-down. A few were unsure and stayed on the steps while the rest followed me. It was so funny to see their expressions as they saw their friends on the steps become smaller and smaller as we went up. 

And though this was their first elevator ride, most of them were more taken by the novelty of the inside fishpond that was part of a wall’s water decoration. Davis told me, “Teacher, I can't believe they have so many fish right there and nobody tries to catch them and eat them!” He couldn't cut quite grasp that they were just there for decoration.

The time finally reach for us to head to the airport and all of the children help push the luggage up the winding driveway. It's a place I've been countless times, picking up and dropping off teams, and now it was my turn. They prayed for me and with tears in our eyes we gave one another a last hug (until we meet again).  I thank the Lord for each of these treasured memories and special tokens of goodbye.

Photo credit: Christopher Mullen

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Part One: Farewells around LCH

(I acknoweldege that this is a very long post and might be for my own benefit and memory, but there are some photos that I know you will enjoy if you don’t get through all the words. Either way, thank you for praying me (and my kiddos and community) through this transition period.)

Oh such fond memories… some sad, most full of laughter, and all full of love. I couldn’t have planned my last month(ish) in Uganda any better.  I am so thankful for the Lord’s kindness to know just what I needed to end this treasured chapter of my life well (for everyone’s heart involved).

I knew I wanted to have one last holiday with the children, were the older students are home from boarding school and all the children are out of class. I love holidays because they allow time for a lot of fun, activities, and experiences to be had.  We had all of our normal activities, including Bible study and special classes twice a week, but I also had some shining moments.

Slumber Parties
This holiday I spent the night a number of times at Lulwanda, sleeping in the top bunk in the girls’ dorm. It was so sweet to come into their room in the evening and see how they had made the bed up (rolling the blanket and arranging the sheets in a special design) and I always had a note or little gift left on my pillow or hanging above “my bed.”  Since I was spending the night there I got to experience some of the things that happen in the evening hours. One great blessing was the evening fellowships, lead and taught by the children. It was beautiful seeing some children take this leadership role and lead their peers, whether in worship, prayer, preaching, or MCing the event. Joseph usually taught with Davis as the scripture reader and the girls leading beautiful worship melodies. But even one evening Marion shared, a preacher at the mere age of eight. We have future leaders in the Kingdom rising up!!

As my parting gift, I bought a popcorn maker (like the ones at a movie theater) for LCH. After supper children would start making popcorn while others set up the projector and sheet for movies under the stars. It was a fun time. The little ones enjoyed it so much that they started asking me in anticipation everyday, “Teacha, are you sleeping here tonight?!”

Once curfew rolled around, though everyone went to their dorms, you can imagine it being a bit like summer camp with so many girls in one space. Silliness was had as the little ones would shout my name and then run and hide under the beds for me to find them. The older girls enjoyed selecting songs on my phone and painting their nails or making friendship bracelets. It was one big slumber party and so much fun.

Many afternoons during I took the kids on a “hike”. Well the first time it really was intended to be just a hike, but after we found ourselves at the nearby river, the expectation was set that hiking really meant swimming in Manafwa River. Around 4pm, after everyone’s activities and assignments had been completed, I would shout, “Five minutes until we leave for hiking” and kids would come running to the gate. We did actually hike about 20 minutes down to the river, where we had found a place that was shallow enough for everyone to stand and had a bit of a current that allowed for the older ones to “swim”(aka flail) in the river as the current took them.  Some were brave enough to jump off the ledge on the other side of the river. Others collected the smooth black river stones to take back to Lulwanda to paint. And many of the younger ones were thrilled to cover themselves head to toe in the soft swampy mud. There was never a silent moment or a sad face when we were at the river. These children LOVE “swimming”! One day James said to me as we were walking, “Teacha, I am going to see my grandmother. She has been missing me.” A bit confused I looked at him and he declared, “I am a mudfish returning home!”  Ha.  (Thank you, Lord, for your protection of my “swimmers”!)


Jaja Kainza
I have mentioned before on my blog about a sweet little Jaja (grandmother) who we have occasionally visited to help cook, clean, and fetch water for. Well she has adopted me and the Lulwanda children as hers and loves when we visit. But it blesses my heart more to hear the children asking when we are going to visit and help her. They are eager to do any work that she suggests, especially carrying the 20 liter jerry-cans full of water (that are super heavy!). We were able to visit her a number of times before I left. And every time she never fails to tell us that we have loved her with Jesus’ love and that even when we are not there, she is never alone because she is with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

A time of worship and prayer with our Jaja.

Helping to clean the compound.

Off to fetch water at the boar hole.

Cooking lunch in the outside kitchen.

Ready to serve lunch: meat, rice, cabbage, and soda.
Farewell Party
But definitely the highlight of my “going away events” was the farewell party that they planned for me. You have to remember that part of my job was planning and executing all the major parties and events at LCH- so it was a very weird feeling to be at LCH that day and see everyone busy preparing for the event but to have absolutely no responsibility in it. I didn’t really know what to do with myself but was able to gather a group of children and play farkle dice and some other games. My heart was blessed as I pulled up to LCH that day and saw so many of the staff busy at work under the veranda of the kitchen. Even the men were busy at work rolling out chappati and preparing the chicken (remember we don’t have an HEB to buy a frozen chicken).

There were a few highlights from that day that are etched in my brain:
1) I knew that the event was happening that day and I had thought to myself that I wished at least one of my two photographer friends could be there that day, but since it wasn’t an event I was planning I didn’t act on that wish. The morning of the event I kind of regretted not asking one of them, but oh well. Too late now. As I was driving out to LCH I saw a mzungu man that resembled John Palmer on the back of a boda. I was confused why John would be on a boda and why he didn’t call if he needed a ride, so as I stared while passing the boda and realized it wasn’t John but a different mzungu guy and a mzungu girl. I then realized it was my photographer friend, Hannah. Since we were at a spot way beyond town, I assumed (rightly) they were headed to LCH and pulled over. Once in the car I asked if John had invited them out for the event today. They replied that he had not but this was one of the days they had free and had just asked it was ok to visit. They had no idea that today was such a special day- BUT my Father knew exactly and my heart was beyond blessed with this specific way He loved me because I now have some awesomely beautiful photos of my farewell party. (Thank you so much, Hannah, for these treasures!)

2) While all the preparations were happening, my dear friend Betty approached me and led me to the administrator’s house. She explained that every staff member had contributed towards buying me a gift and I needed to select one. As I entered one of the rooms there were three beautiful party dresses (think prom style), a pile of fancy shoes, some jewelry and a purse to choose from. I tried on all of the dresses and landed on a really beautiful, fluffy, red dress. Wow. SO fun!!

3) That day I had no idea that I would be receiving the party dress so I had dressed smart for the day (in my own clothes). After lunch, as people were starting to gather to begin the party, I went to change into the dress the staff had bought me. I totally felt like Cinderella going to the ball. The best part was that none of the children knew about my outfit change. Everyone was gathered in the main hall as they announced the arrival of their “mugole”(bride or guest of honor). In I walked, in my princess dress, with high heals on (this is Uganda, I have rarely worn heals here!), looking super smart and the cheers and African “Ayeyeyeyeye!” started. At first I felt a bit shy but by the middle of the main hall I embraced the moment and gave them a spin as I continued to my designated seat. It was very special and I felt very beautiful.

4) One of the many things I have learned during my time in Uganda is to always be ready to teach, encourage, or give a speech during a function because it is very likely I will be called on. So, I came this day prepared with a speech I had typed out before, in hopes that if I read my word (rather than giving a speech just from my heart) then I might be able to stay a bit more composed and without tears. Well I wasn’t successful in not crying but I was able to speak clear enough to be understood. I treasure the ending of my speech to the staff and children: “It is too hard to sum up all of my thoughts, feelings, and appreciation into one speech. My going is not easy. I have cried many tears. But I am so grateful that these tears are because of love. I love each of you, SO SO MUCH. And I am forever grateful for your love for me. Thank you for making Uganda, and especially Lulwanda, home for me. I am beyond blessed to know each of you. My mother used to tell me and my sister, “I love you bigger than the world.” I now understand how much that is. And so I will end by saying the same, “I love you bigger than the world!”

5) There were many beautiful words, poems and songs, great presentations and speeches, and treasured gifts given. But the most special moment was when Naster and Allen presented me a bouquet of roses. Naster explained that the one white rose in the middle represented me and that the color pink represents love and all the pink roses represented all the children’s love that surrounds me.

(Oh Lord, may they always know how deeply I love each and every one of them.)

5) After all was said and done and many photos were taken the event turned into a fun dance party. And I love dancing!!

(Funny side note story- so I wouldn’t say I am great at dancing or promise that I always keep a beat, but I have my own style. Throughout the years the kids have laughed at me or tried to mimic my free style moves. During holiday I was with some of the Tendo girls at the Palmer’s house playing Just Dance on the PlayStation (where you try to follow the moves on the screen). During one song one of the Tendo girls made the comment, “These are Teacha Nat’s moves!” HA. I leave behind a dancing legacy).