I remember the night all too clearly, yet pieces of it are a blur. That night was awash with emotions.
I was spending a college semester in Uganda, studying at a University among a small group of Americans and local Ugandans. Our American group had just returned from our homestays, each of us staying with a different rural Ugandan family in the Soroti District. Envision pictures you’ve seen in National Geographic. Think of small huts in the middle of the African bush. Seven days of eating with my hands and sitting on the ground. Seven days of shelling ground nuts with the children, making dinners over a fire (more watching than making), and sweeping out the compound with sticks. Seven days of waking up at dawn, helping fetch water (although the five year old carried more than me), and sponge bathing under the open starry sky.
That type of experience gives you more than enough time to think. Time to think about life and what it’s really about. Time to consider the purposelessness of materialism, the selfishness that perpetrates our society, and the ideals of real community. There is something so calming and comforting about the stillness and peace of rural Ugandan village life. Something quieting about the silence and listening. I remembered the soothing feeling of sitting and shelling ground nuts all day in relative quiet and then lying down for an afternoon nap. The work is difficult, but life is simple and much good comes from that simplicity.
So much was going on that night. We were reunited with our group and all returned with stories and crazy experiences. For most it had been the hardest week of the trip. For me, it had been the best, an eye-opening and transformative experience.
I started frantically journaling in the solitude of our little dorm. As a college student, I was struck with this realization that life is about more than finding the perfect job. It was about more than going on crazy adventures. It had a lot to do with God, and not much to do with me. It had a lot to do with people and generosity, and my concept and definition of those things had just been broadened in a significant way.
I don’t remember the exact words, but I told God, “send me, choose me.”
I wrote on and on. I recalled the way my Ugandan mother served her village every single day in such small, tangible, needed ways. I told God, “send me anywhere you want to do anything you want. It doesn’t have to be on a crazy adventure. Just your will be done.” I knew I was making a dangerous request. I knew, but I didn’t know. In my mind, I knew it would not turn out as I expected. I knew God probably had something planned that I could never imagine in my limited, finite mind.
Looking back through my journals recently, that night and those requests have flooded back into my mind and jolted my memory. And I realize, is this is what I was saying yes to? Was I saying yes to years of sickness and pain? When I said yes to anything God wanted for me, is this what he had in mind? I told God, “please send me where I can serve you best, my life is open, completely set aside for you.”
That is still my request, but I feel much less rash and have far more wisdom to know what it really means. God’s answer has been unexpected at best and felt unbearable at its worst. And constant on my mind is how my present circumstances are meant to further God’s Kingdom. I wonder how I am supposed to better serve him when it feels as though I am too tired to go out and serve him. I wonder how I am supposed to serve in this small, monotonous world that has become my life.
I remember Soroti because I saw my host mother do just that: serve in the middle of normal life in basic yet phenomenal ways. I heard her get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to sing and pray until the rest of the family woke at dawn. I watched her give money to any neighbor who asked, though she herself was poor. She raised her own children and several orphans with no husband to help and support her. She was an extraordinary woman who did great things with great humility. Tucked away in at tiny village in Soroti in the middle of Uganda, she will never go down in the history books. Few people beyond her village will know about her, and probably no more than a dozen Americans will ever meet her. But she was truly extraordinary in a quiet, bold, strong way.
And I desire to be more like her. I want to emulate her spirit and convictions. I want to translate her service to village life into service to my small corner of life.
How is it that some people just “get it” so naturally? You look at their lives and think, “what they are doing is good. How can I do that same thing, yet differently in my own life?” They have taken their corner of life, excelled in it, and then drawn others in as well. They are comfortable with their role, who they are, and what they are doing. And then they share it with others. That has never come naturally for me, as much as I desire it.
If this time of pain is the opportunity that God prepared for me, and answered my request for, I don’t want to waste it. I need the perspective to believe this is a unique time in my life that could lend to a unique ministry if I could only discover it. I am beginning to discover it – reaching out as I can through my blog, starting a group for others in similar places, writing a book about the Christian and chronic pain. I truly believe that changing the world begins in our own homes, communities, and villages. I am slowly figuring out what this should look like.
And mostly, I am learning. I am stepping out when I know how, asking God to transform me, and often I think of her. Silent and strong. Humble and filled with faith. Serving out of her poverty of riches, as I serve out of my poverty of health.