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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reflections of Faithfulness

I love songs… they often mark a memory of a place, event, or season. Sometimes the lyrics move you (I listen to mostly Christian music so this is often true). Then when I hear that song again in a later season, the lyrics become an anchor and also as a monument to remind me of what God has done and what He is still doing (because He is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore).

My ending months in Uganda one of my “anthem” songs was King of My Heart by Bethel.

Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh-oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
Oh he is my song
You are good, good, oh-ohh
You are good, good, oh-ohh…
You're never gonna let
Never gonna let me down…

But I have found that this song has carried value into my American life as well. Only what was once an anthem sung in faith, believing that God’s promises are true even in the unseen of what comes next, has become a proclamation of praise for His faithfulness displayed in my life (yet again).

Today makes one year that I have been able to serve as a staff member at my church.

There are moments that pass by and I praise them as they come but quickly move on and the amazement passes away. But when I take the moments to reflect, the story proves much bigger. God is SO faithful.

So let my boasts be in the Lord and of His unending faithfulness in my story. He is the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, and is faithful to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we ask or think. So may this recount be one that gives glory to the Lord. May it show His peace, intimacy, and intentionality.

It has been about 1.5 years since I left Uganda. It has surprised me that the most common question has been WHY did I leave? My answer is simple… obedience to the Lord. My decision to move back to the USA was hard. Saying goodbyes was SO hard. And my greatest lesson in this step of obedience has been that just because it is hard, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it because Jesus is worthy of my devotion. God’s peace rests in the hard when we are walking in obedience.

One of my greatest testimonies to summarize all my testimonies is that the Lord loves us each specifically. He shows all of us love generally, each and every day. But He is also a Good Father who knows each of us specifically in all of our uniqueness. He knows me specifically. What delights my heart is different than what delights your heart. And the Father knows and has showered me with His specific love for me!

With that said, as I came back to Texas, my parent’s house was my landing ground. They were beyond gracious to give me a space to process and adjust. I had a few months before I started pursuing anything career-wise to allow my head and heart to adjust to American life. I am so thankful for that gift of time.

I am always amazed at the connections and people that God brings along our path. Nothing is ever a coincidence. And so much of my story of resettling in America is around these divine connections.

The Resume
-       As I began to think about updating my resume I was overwhelmed completely. How in the world am I going to fit all the random responsibilities I had in Uganda into a one-page resume?! Thankfully, a few people I am connected with on FB generous offered their time and skills of resume writing. I met with a FB friend, who I had never actually met but had hosted her husband on one of the first Global Journey teams. With all my papers and ideas in hand, I hoped to summarize yet adequately explain and highlight all of my “professional” accomplishments. But when you say something like, “I planned for and hosted American teams,” that doesn’t fully capture the intricacies and details (and complications) of coordinating ALL the details- in Africa. (TIA. Simple things are not simple there).

BUT, the Lord knew the EXACT person that could help me because not only is Laura great at resume writing, she also spent some years living in Uganda and knew exactly how to articulate the complexities of accomplishing things in Uganda. What a blessing her help was! And how detailed and specific was this gift of resume help from someone who has done life in Uganda and can help define that in concise, purposeful sentences to fit onto a one-page resume?!

The Job
-       I am grateful for the first few months of transitioning to have been able to do some things that I enjoy doing. One of those was getting back in touch with my creative-side as I took two watercolor classes at an art studio on the Buchanan Dam. Towards the end of my second class, the teacher asked if I wanted to share my story with the other ladies in the class. After sharing my story and what type of job I was looking for in America, many of the ladies replied something of this sort, “Oh, well I think my church might need a …” But I didn’t consider those comments. Until the next day when I received a call from the lady who sat next to me during the art class. She told me that she had called her church in Austin and that they had a few open positions and I should call them. So I called and the rest is history in the making! One year, so far, at such a great job that I love!

The Housing
-       This story is probably the greatest example of God’s specific love! When I visited the church, before I was hired, I was introduced to a couple in the church that spends 6 months in Texas and 6 months in Ohio because they have grandkids in both places. When they heard that I was driving in from my parents for interviews they offered that whether I get the job at the church or not, I could stay at their apartment for 6 months while they were gone and that would help them to keep the place and help me to be in Austin. WHAT?! They offered a stranger to live in their house for 6 months!! But the best part is that this couple used to live in Jinja, Uganda for 3 years, so their apartment was decorated with Uganda paintings and crafts!!  I felt totally at home and my thought that I had decorated the place. They even have a map above their TV, that I have, that can only be bought in one store in the capital city in Uganda! Now, how sweet is that for the Lord to know this delight of my heart! Of all people to be generous enough to offer a place to stay and they are Ugandan friends and their apartment felt completely like home!! Now that is the specific love of the Lord!
-       The morning I drove in and was offered the apartment, I remember telling the Lord, “Sure I can put money down on an apartment, but I have zero furniture. College was long ago and my parents haven’t kept any of that furniture. I don’t even have a bed!” Well my own apartment is now beautifully furnished because of the huge generosity of two families in my church (and garage sales!)

The Daily Details
-       Going from living out your life dream to walking away, in obedience, from that dream is not easy. There are many fears that run through your head- how will anything ever be as meaningful? Is this a step backward? You are living your life dream, will God give me a new dream? As I thought about what I might want to do as a job in America, I thought to work in ministry at a church seemed obviously in line with my heart and experience. I also thought (and looked into) working with Samaritan’s Purse (disaster relief), a soup kitchen for the homeless, or working with inner city kids/youth. Amazingly, God answered all of those heart desires! Austin Disaster Relief Network has offered great training that I have been able to do and am certified to go and help. My church has two Mobile Loaves and Fishes trucks that serve food to the under-resourced in our city every single day. I have been able to lead and drive the truck for our young adult group. And though not inner city, I have the privilege to work with the youth group at our church every week.

The specificity of the Lord’s love is so beautiful. My heart is humbled. He knows every detail already and He is a good Father who delights to give His children good things. So as I held my hand open and gave back to Him my life in Uganda and at Lulwanda Children’s Home, he traded it for a new job/ministry at Lake Hills Church! 

From LCH to LHC - I didn’t even have to memorize new letters J


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