Jesus Changes Hearts

Since I was a child, I have wanted to travel and help people. I’ve longed for adventure and finding purpose. While I do believe God has a unique plan for everyone, my mom has never wanted to travel. I used to be so confused, asking her “there are so many wonderful places in the world, how can you not want to see them??” My mom would reply saying she would just like to see all the beautiful places in the US and that would be good enough for her. As a young dreamer, I couldn’t fathom that mindset. However, I have a memory of being a child and my mother once telling me that when she was a child, she wanted to be a flight attendant. Now, I’ve been learning a lot about dreaming here at the Field of Dreams and I’ve been learning that sometimes Jesus gives us new dreams, and sometimes he brings back ones set in our hearts long ago.

This particular story began on February 14, a Saturday. Saturdays here at Show Mercy are Say No to Hunger days. We play games, do praise and worship, share testimonies, teach a bible lesson and share a meal with village children in the sponsorship program. Show Mercy has four of these programs in the villages of Kaliti, Kitooke, Bakka and Nkoowe. I’ve visited Kitooke, where a boy named Hudson lives, who is now being sponsored by my mother. But most Saturdays I visit Nkoowe because the boy I sponsor, Dennis, attends that program.

At that time we were blessed to have Show Mercy co-founder, Lori Salley, in Uganda and she came and attended Nkoowe Say No to Hunger that day. We had a fun morning teaching about the story of the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. As we’re driving home, Lori randomly turns to me and asks, “Is your mom the one that’s coming here?” “Uhhhhh no?!?” I said. I explained how my mom hates to travel, and she has no desire to leave the country. Lori went on to say that she’s pretty sure it was my mom that had been emailing her husband, Mike, about coming to Uganda to visit her new sponsor child. I remember thinking, “there is just no way that’s my mom, it has to be someone else.” Lori confirmed her name and Bethany piped in that she had seen the emails too.

My brain began to wonder if this could even be possible. I hadn’t spoken to my mom about it yet but I kept thinking, if all this was true and my mom was truly coming to Uganda, then Jesus was really stirring up her heart. My mom would never have this desire on her own, it had to be Jesus changing her.

I had gotten into the habit of calling my house on Sunday afternoons and talking to my parents while they’re getting ready for church Sunday morning. I didn’t know how to bring up the topic to my mom so I did what I always do and just sort of dove right in. “Sooo I heard something about you…” I started. After her talking and me squealing, my mom admitted that she was considering coming to see me and Hudson in Uganda.

For days I ran around telling my Ugandan friends that I think my mom is coming to Show Mercy. I tried not to get too excited (which is one of the hardest things in the world for me). I couldn’t stop thinking what an incredible blessing that would be for her to come here and see what I’m doing. After all the opposition I faced in my preparation, to have someone in my family come and really understand why I’m here, I couldn’t imagine anything better.

The following Wednesday I called her again. I was spending a lot of my Airtime cell phone minutes but I thought, if I really wanted my mom to come, I was going to have to pester her. But to my surprise, Jesus is, once again, better than I could have ever imagined. He knows the plans her has for her and without my help, was setting things into motion.

Wednesday I called my mom at work and she answered the phone saying, “Oh good, I wanted to talk to you before I booked this flight.” I instantly screamed and one of the security guards, Martin 2, ran to see if I was dying. I continued to squeal as my mom informed me that she had secretly gotten a passport when I got mine back in November, she had already made an appointment to get her shots, she had talked to Show Mercy about how much it would cost to stay at Field of Dreams and she was in the process of booking her plane ticket to be here in April and return home with me on April 19 (Her flight will be much cheaper than mine, by the way).

Just think, Jesus was setting this plan into motion long before my mom or I even knew it. At this point, I’m simply marveling at what is happening. Jesus is, and has been for some time, laying this path for my mom to come to Uganda and experience what God has in store for her. She thinks she’s coming to see me, but in reality, she’s coming to be changed forever, and she doesn’t even know it yet. My mom will learn so much while here serving with Show Mercy and I’m just so excited to see it happen and be a part of it.

Because God is so creative, He had to sweeten the deal a little bit more. On February 9, Monday evening, a bunch of us ladies sat down and wrote a dreams list. I sort of equated it to a bucket list. It’s a list of all the desires in your heart, things you want to do, accomplish, have, see, whatever, in your life. We were told to dream big and write down every dream we could think of, no matter how silly it sounded. Don’t filter your thoughts, just let them flow and let the Holy Spirit tell you the desires of your heart that maybe you didn’t even know were there. The goal was to get to 100 dreams. By the end of that night I had about 80. I kid you not, that night, five days before I was to hear about my mom’s plans, I wrote down two separate dreams: To be in a foreign country with my mom, and to be at Show Mercy with my mom. When I wrote these down I remember thinking maybe it would happen years from now. Never did I fathom that they would both happen within two months of now. I’m learning each day, here, that God’s plan are so much better than mine. His plans far surpass anything I could imagine on my own.

In his Mind of a Saint series, Graham Cook says, “If it doesn’t sound too good to be true, it isn’t God.” That statement perfectly wraps up what I am experiencing about the goodness of our creator. I am delighting in finding all of these gifts God has hidden for me along my journey.

Now, I’ve had some hard times here at Show Mercy. God wants me to see that Field of Dreams isn’t some fantasy place that he created just for me. I’m still in the real world. I see poverty every day outside the compound and we also face challenges within the compound as well. BUT, here, I have spent more time than ever in my life marveling at the goodness of God. Sometimes I feel silly. I just want to apologize to God saying, “Jesus, I’m so sorry that you had to bring me all the way to Uganda for me to finally get it.” God is so remarkably good. Sometimes I feel like God is so good that I can’t even handle it. For a long time I’ve been wanting more and more of God but now for the first time I really feel God pursuing me. I feel restored by His presence. I know it’s hard to tell because I jump around a lot, but here, I am jumping because I literally can’t handle how amazing God is. He cares deeply for us. Everything He does is to help us become new.

Jesus changes hearts. I see it most every week in the Ugandan prisoners that choose to accept Christ and change their lifestyle. I see it in the women in the market that are married to Muslim men but harbor love for Jesus inside them. I see it in my mom that vowed never to leave the country, who cried and yelled when I told her I was coming to Uganda, and is now preparing to travel, by herself, across the Atlantic to Africa as well. Jesus changes hearts.

So Ma, though it will be at the very end of my time here in Uganda, I can’t wait for you to get here. You have one daughter, two other interns, 27 Ugandan staff members and countless villagers eagerly awaiting your arrival. I can’t wait to find out what God continues to do in your heart once you land in Entebbe, and I can’t wait to see it all happen.

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I’m Expecting

When couples are pregnant, they say they are expecting. They are expecting a baby to be born soon. They know he or she is coming, they see the bump growing, they feel it’s kicks, they prepare for it’s arrival. Expecting is what you do when you know something is about to happen.

Since I’ve been at Show Mercy there have been many, many people that have spoken into my life and taught me of this idea of being expectant of God. I had never heard of this concept before coming here. People here talk about being expectant that God will move, being expectant that He will heal the people we pray for, being expectant that we will see miracles in Uganda.

I’m a pretty hopeful individual. Anyone that went to college with me and was around while I was preparing for my senior recital can tell you that I can be fairly pessimistic but deeper down, my heart is hopeful that my negativity is wrong. I’ve always been hopeful that God will work things out.

Here, at Show Mercy, as I talk to my new friends who are much wiser than me, spiritually and otherwise, I am seeing that having a hopeful heart is not how miracles happen and how lives are changed. I could go up to someone at the clinic here in Wakiso and pray for them saying, “I hope God will heal you, I hope it is in His will for you to be healed.” But no, that’s not how we all witness heaven manifested on earth.

We see people healed, we see God work when we have an expectation that He will do it. I’m learning to have a faith so strong that when I pray for people I say, “God I thank you that You are the God that heals, I command anything that is not of You to come out of this person’s body in Jesus’ name.” God works when we trust in the authority granted to us through Jesus Christ.

God can do it. He is able. God doesn’t desire for His children to be hurting. And He could heal all on His own, but He chooses to partner with us to show His glory. That’s why we lay hands on people.

This is still a very new concept to me and I’m still figuring it all out but it’s very exciting. I want to have this faith that is so certain that I can see a leg grow out or someone raised from the dead. I want those acts to be used to bring others to Christ because when you see heaven manifested before you, you can’t deny what you’ve seen. Like in 1 Kings when Elijah is on Mount Carmel and he prays “ Let it be known today that you are God.” God lit the alter on fire and the people call out, knowing of the one true God. Now, it’s sometimes sad to me that we’ve become people of such unbelief that we often need to see God explode into flame before our faces in order to believe. It makes me sad because Christianity is not about fact, but faith. However, when we carry the presence of God inside us as the Holy Spirit, we have an open heaven above us, so seeing the miracles of God should be a normal occurrence. Elijah teaches me to walk that fine line between living with authority and not testing the Lord (Luke 4:12, Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 6:16).

I have just over two months left here in Uganda and while I am here, I am expecting things from God. I am expecting to see miracles. I am expecting to see dreams come true. I am expecting to see a new family created. I am expecting to meet people and have conversations that I will never forget. I am expecting God to make my next steps clear to me. I am expecting to leave changed beyond any way I could come up with on my own.

Just like Mary once road on the back of a donkey, expecting the Lord Jesus to be born of her. I want to go out expecting to see that same God working through me. I’ve seen it many times since I’ve been here, Jesus using me to bring about His glory, and I was always surprised that He would humble himself to do that. But I want to live expecting that He will show up, seeing Him growing more inside my heart, feeling His love spilling out of me, and constantly preparing for His arrival. Because when your faith is so certain of the goodness of God, that’s when miracles happen.

I’ve Seen God, and a Chicken, In the Maternity Ward.

Each day here in Uganda God continues to blow my mind. Fridays are a full day of ministry for the Show Mercy team. January 30th, began with some inspiring worship with the other interns and Bethany and Brittany, Show Mercy workers in Uganda and Oregon. After Brittany had a powerful encounter with God the night before, she felt an overwhelming call from Him to speak love into our lives that morning. The interns were prayed over, we were encouraged that “God loves us because He loves us because He loves us because He loves us because He loves us.” He loves us 100%, now, no matter what we will ever do.

Our worshipping and praying ran long so we jumped right into a van that took us to our morning outreach, the health clinic. in Wakiso, the largest nearby village. Every Tuesday and Friday mornings we visit this clinic and walk around praying for patients.

Now, this clinic is hard for me to illustrate in words. It is so different from anything you’d see in America. There are several different buildings. Most people stand or sit around outside. The windows are open. Bugs fly freely around, landing on patients who lay on cheap bed frames covered in cracked, plastic mattresses. Sometimes patients lay on the cement floor. My first visit to the maternity ward included a chicken roaming through the legs of women about to go into labor. Babies, children, and adults come to be treated for everything from ear and tooth aches to busted toes and malaria.

Because we visit here often, I felt compelled on our journey to the clinic to pray that everyone would leave feeling fruitful. I think when ministry is your full-time “job” it is easy to forget how extraordinary the little things are, like when you pray for someone and their face changes from pain to a smile. You don’t look over these things on purpose, you’re just constantly looking for conversions and transformations of people hearts and looking for the next person to tell about Jesus to. So I prayed that simple prayer and then we were getting out of the car.

Show Mercy outreach staff Iryn and Michael, and fellow interns, Jacqui and Jen and I slowly made our way to the building all the way in the back where we normally start. This is the building where patients are housed that have been admitted. Today there aren’t too many people there. We prayed over a young girl sitting outside with part of her IV in her arm, suffering from malaria. Inside we pray over her brother who is there supporting her. School starts next week and he is still trying to accumulate school fees (very common here).

When we leave that building we begin walking back down the hill towards the maternity ward. Jen brings up that last time we were here another outreach staff, Tom, told us in some families in Uganda, a baby is not named for three days after it is born. Iryn says she has not heard this. She mentions that past interns have had the opportunity to name babies here before. A child calls out to me from behind a bush “Hi mzungu!”(white person). Michael makes a joke about me standing out because of my skin color, and then we proceed inside.

I first notice that it actually smells clean in there today. In the maternity ward there are two groups of people. Iryn, Jacqui and Jen go over to a bed on the left, Michael and I walk over to a group on the right. Immediately I see a woman holding a brand new baby in her arms, the woman next to her is her mother. Michael interprets for me and we learn that this baby girl was born just an hour ago and they wanted me to pray a blessing over the baby. I walk closer and pray that she has a long, healthy life. I pray she has the opportunity to go school and becomes very successful. I pray that she brings joy to everyone she meets and I dedicate her life to the Lord.

When I look up the grandmother is smiling and she tells me I now get to name the baby.

I seem to do this a lot in Uganda but Umm…..What?!?

I look back and forth between the grandma and Michael about 50 times while my heart just about beats out of my chest. I covered my mouth in shock, exclaimed “Oh my goodness gracious,” and nearly cried.

I mean, who does that? That would never happen in America. First of all, you could never just walk into a maternity ward and pray over a baby still covered in embryonic fluid. No one would just let some random stranger name their baby, especially a foreigner.

I named the baby Deborah. I told the family that Debra is my mother’s name and it’s a name of people that have showed me great love in my life. Deborah is also a prophetess from the book of Judges that led Israel in victory over the Canaanites.

At this point, Iryn, Jen and Jacqui come over and learn what has happened. The family then told me that I am now the baby’s Godmother and they take down Michael’s phone number so they can invite me to Deborah’s baptism in a month. I am in so much shock as Jacqui takes pictures of me with the baby and I continue to welcome her into the world. Michael jokes that she is a “mzungu baby” because even the skin of African children is so light when they are first born. Somehow I make it out the door of the ward in a daze.

Like, how do you go about your day after that?

Well for me that consisted of praying for more patients, having an elderly man come up to us saying he’s always wanted a “mzungu girlfriend,” and in the afternoon having my Ugandan grandma (Jja Jja) tell me that she would pay my dowry if I married Michael.

Every day here God blows me away. After what happened in the prison just the day before I called my mom to tell her what God was doing through me. But I quickly realized that I would run out of prepaid cell phone minutes very fast if I called every time God did something incredible.

How could I ever deny my Father’s love for me when he bestows such lavish blessings on me such as this? I have done nothing to deserve such encounters of His love. In fact, I have done so much more to run away from Him. But God is so so good. He uses me and blesses me when I least expect it. I am beyond excited to see what He does in the rest of my time here.

Not long after leaving the clinic, we were driving back home. Outreach staff was chanting my name, Godmother Kelsey. Everyone’s spirits were high and they were cheering. I definitely didn’t ask to become a godmother to a little Ugandan girl this morning. I just prayed that we would all see the fruits of our labor that day as we went out to share the good news of Jesus. I laughed on the way home with the feeling that we were all in agreement that it had been a pretty fruitful morning. Praise God.

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How Being Used Can Feel Good

As I write this it is Thursday afternoon, about 5 o’clock. I’ve been in Uganda for 9 days. Today is not quite as blistering hot as the days normally feel to someone who just left a state buried in snow. It’s days like this that all I can do is marvel at where God has me right now. How did I find myself in this beautiful place, doing ministry of all things. Since when am I equipped to do that? Today was a testimony to the sneaky way God uses those who are perfect by no means.

Today I prepared and gave my first sermon….to a group of male Ugandan prisoners. We visit the prison every Thursday afternoon. Last Thursday while there, I stood up and gave my testimony of how I came to know Christ, which as an upper middle class white woman, I feel is very unordinary. I left that day proud that I had showed boldness in Christ but feeling as if I probably hadn’t touched many lives.

This morning at Show Mercy, after our weekly full staff meeting, a fellow intern, Jen, and I went up to Tom, a member of the outreach department, and asked what we would be doing at the the prison today. Tom said he was just about to go and plan his sermon. I suggested maybe he could do it on the bible lesson we taught to the kids on Saturday-Jesus healing the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-18). I suggested that this bible story reminds us to always give thanks to the Lord, and when these men leave jail they should remember to thank God like the one leper who returned to Jesus.

Tom replied, “Oh good, you do it.”

Um….what?

I don’t dislike public speaking as much as most people. I’m outgoing and don’t usually mind attention on me. But after I accepted the offer to preach I was overcome with this question, “What in the world am I going to say?”

I’ve heard countless sermons before in my life but never have I given one. And these people have endured things I cannot imagine. They have felt feelings I can’t begin to understand. Oh, and we don’t even speak the same language!

I had two hours to prepare my talk and eat lunch before heading out to the prison. Jen agreed to help me write the sermon as long as I was the one giving it and I am very grateful for her help and support. At one point Tom came over to our porch and reminded me to bring everything back to the salvation that is found in Jesus. Without that advice, who knows, I could have concluded my preaching by talking about ice cream and ant hills- it was my first sermon after all.

I wrote out several notes on Leprosy, Samaritans, and thanking God at all times. I complained more than once about how much easier this would be with Google and rewrote the notes again. As the planning went on it became apparent I needed to address these men not as prisoners, but as people. The sermon became a teaching that I myself could stand to hear more often: Jesus can cleanse us of all that makes us unclean and God can use you and your story, no matter how broken. I finished up writing my notes and went off to lunch where my fellow mzungus encouraged me as we ate pasta salad and the freshest pineapple you can imagine. Then Jen, Tom, Michael (outreach staff), Anthony (Ugandan intern), and I set off.

On the (extremely bumpy) ride to the prison, I read over my notes and asked the Holy Spirit to give me words. Give me the words oh God-my sermon was supposed to be about 30 minutes in length and I had one side of one page filled with notes.

When we arrive at the prison we always start with praise in worship which is very different in Africa. Both times I have been there it surprises me how many of the male inmates join in and praise the Lord. We have been told that whether or not they are Christian, they know the songs from hearing them while growing up in the villages. I, obviously, don’t speak fluent Lugandan so I cannot really sing along so at this time I continue to ask the Lord to give me the words that these men need to hear.

Jen begins the teaching by reading the story from Luke in English, and then one man reads it from a flappy Lugandan bible that lays around the prison and all of a sudden it is my turn.

I didn’t yell like the pastors here in Africa and in some places in America do. I used my hands a bit. I used my notes less than I thought I would. I said more than I had written down. I tried to be bold.

I am thankful to Anthony that translates for me. While he speaks I have a few seconds to form my next thought coherently.

At the end I invite anyone who has a longing in their heart to follow Jesus to raise their hand and be prayed for. And to my astonishment, people did! I prayed with more of my heart in that moment than I think I ever had, and every word of it was translated into their language.

I’ve never been to an American prison but from what I’ve seen in documentaries, this prison is different. There are a few rooms where the inmates all sleep on the floor but the rest is just open air space surrounded by a wall maybe eight feet high. After my sermon FOUR men that accepted Christ walked with Jen, Michael and I over near a tree and we tell them the importance of getting involved in a church once they leave jail in order to learn and be in community. I encourage them to see themselves as a light in this dark place while they are still there.

It was at this point that hearing the stories of my new brothers in Christ nearly brought me to tears. One man says he does not know what is to become of his three children while he is in jail. He does not know if they will be attending school, as the new year starts the following week. He goes on to say that many of the men in this prison are there because they have been wrongly accused and they are waiting for their court date. He says while in jail they often dream of going back to these people that have accused them and seeking revenge but when outreach people from Show Mercy come each week and preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, they think of peace and no longer of vengeance. Again, I was taken aback: nine days in Uganda and I am already seeing transformation of lives. How blessed I am just to witness this and be a part of it.

Today more than ever, I look around at beautiful Uganda and I know in my heart that only God could have done this. Only the almighty powerful God could bring a 22 year old musician from Michigan here to bring about his glory. I sit and revel at the fact that I just snacked on a passion fruit and watched Show Mercy’s agriculture team practice jumping on a pogo stick while waiting for a delicious dinner of Matooke. How did this become my life?? Only God could make this happen. Only God could work in the hearts of Ugandan prisoners to get them to a place where the feeble words of an inexperienced evangelist could make a difference in the destiny of their souls.

So today I marvel at what God has done and what God is doing. I look at the brokenness of my life and the things I wish I could change about my heart and I take two steps forward as I once again realize that no matter who you are, God can use you.

Whether it’s for your mind, your talents, your body, or your possessions, most people I know don’t like being used by other people. We often think of being used as being taken advantage of. But today, once again, I learn the valuable lesson that, despite the fact that being used by humans doesn’t always feel so good, being used by God is always an exceptional blessing.