Hello from Gulu! I can't believe I am already beginning my fifth week in Uganda. Time has flown and I have a lot to update you on! So forgive me if this post seems a bit scattered or disjointed!
In some ways, it feels like I just arrived, and in other ways, it feels like I never left East Africa and have been here forever. I love Gulu - it's a fascinating environment here. It's a smaller town (smaller than Nyeri in terms of population for those of you readers who have traveled to Kenya with me in the past); yet, there is a huge international/NGO presence, so there are a fair number of expats. It's super easy to find and make a community of people here. It's a size that I love - I can walk anywhere and everywhere that I want to, traffic isn't crazy like Kampala or other larger cities, and the people are extremely friendly. I live in a safe and calm neighborhood, so I'm able to run every morning before work as the sun is rising, which is becoming one of my favorite parts of each day.
I'm living with a woman named Jenna who works for a school called Restore International (Bob Goff's school, for those of you who have read Love Does). She's from Oklahoma and is super adorable, fun-loving, and social. She's been in Uganda since April, and was in Kenya before that. Our third roommate, Emma, arrived a few days ago, but I’ve only met her briefly as she’s been traveling around with Jenna and Bob!
As far as work, I absolutely love my job. I knew that IJM was an incredible organization when I applied to work for them, but I'm learning more and more each day of how fortunate I am to be a part of this ministry. My coworkers are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. They each are so welcoming and friendly, and made me feel at home instantly, despite being the only non-Ugandan in my office. Yet, when it's time to work, they are FIERCE and I would be terrified to cross paths with any of them in the courtroom or the field! We spent our first week in the IJM-Kampala office for training and orientation, which was extremely helpful as I received a lot of job-specific training from Jessica, the E.A. in the Kampala office. Jessica is also rapidly becoming a great friend although we are in different parts of Uganda, as we communicate daily for work and we are also in the same stage of life - she's a May 2012 grad from UVA. I moved to Gulu after training, and had a few days to settle here and rest before beginning work, which was wonderful. The IJM-Kampala staff traveled to Gulu at the end of that week and we had an IJM-Uganda full-office prayer retreat for the new office. We shared meals together, had a bonfire, and spent a day at the Recreation Project for outdoor team-building activities. We did relay races, ziplined, climbed a climbing wall, did a ropes course. It was great to be able to just hang out with my coworkers out of the office, spending time getting to know one another and do things we've never done before. The prayer retreat concluded on Friday with a commissioning service and ribbon-cutting for the new IJM-Gulu office. This day has been the highlight of my time in Gulu thus far. It's hard to describe the atmosphere of the day other than just knowing that God was present and blessing the place. It's amazing to see how He has put together a team of extremely unique individuals with very different backgrounds and skill sets to begin this office, and also to realize how faithful God has been throughout the process of beginning this office in Uganda. Below is a picture of the IJM-Gulu staff with the Director of Operations - Africa from IJM Headquarters on the day of the ribbon cutting!
Since then, it's just been work! The first weeks in the new office will involve ironing out kinks and establishing a firm presence in the community, but everyone dove right in. My job as Executive Assistant can be better described as doing whatever is necessary to make everyone else's life easier, so they can do their job more effectively, which I LOVE. I can't even describe how much I love it, and how humbled I am already by how God prepared me to do this job without me even knowing it. My job is to have a solution for everything - every problem, question, or idea. If I don't have a solution, my job is to find one. I problem-solve all day. In a lot of ways, it's really similar to what we did in the New Life Homes - trying to get simple or time-consuming tasks completed to free up the social workers and directors to place children in loving families. Now, I love knowing that the random tasks I'm doing each day are making my coworker's have more time to do what they do best - restore widows and orphans to the land that is rightfully theirs. It's also very humbling because a lot of times I don't have the answers, but I continually pray for a spirit of patience and God is granting it to me (as we all know, I'm not a very patient person... so praise God for that).
Something I'm already learning is that God is extremely faithful through prayer. As an extremely independent individual, I constantly try to rely on myself to solve problems and accomplish things rather than relying on God. I'm guilty of powering ahead and not praying about anything until I reach a massive bump in the road or have a problem. Coming into this year, I had very few expectations, but I prayed that God would teach me what it means to really rely on Him through prayer, and to teach me how much better life could be when it was fully surrendered to Him. IJM begins each day with an hour in prayer - 30 minutes alone, and 30 minutes as an office. We pray for each other, for our work, and for our clients. I tell a lot of people about this hour in prayer, and they push back, not understanding why we would spend an hour of our limited work day praying instead of getting things accomplished. And honestly, I kind of thought the same thing before I started working for IJM. I liked the idea of an hour in prayer, but I thought it may cause us to fall behind in work or get things accomplished at a slower pace. I was SO incredibly wrong. Each day, we turn our days over to God, surrendering our actions to Him, reminding ourselves that we cannot do anything we are trying to do without God. And honestly it's crazy, there's no other way to describe it. God makes paths straight in insane ways, grants patience in situations that would normally cause me to get extremely frustrated, and I've always had plenty of time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. And despite spending 1/8 of our work day every day in prayer, IJM is easily one of the most productive and result-oriented non-profit organizations I've ever encountered. And IJM accomplishes things not because we are qualified to be able to do it as staff members, but because God gives us strength and wisdom and patience and assertiveness in ways that I really don't believe we'd be able to without submitting our days fully to him.
So there is a little glimpse into the beginnings of my life here! I'm still learning how to teeter around the African roads in heels and a pencil skirt without toppling over and I'm starting to grasp Acholi thanks to the coaching of my coworkers. I'm also learning how to cook for myself, which is no small feat! Last Friday was a public holiday, so I went to Murchison Falls for the weekend with a few friends – will post pictures soon, as the Nile was beautiful!
Don't be strangers! Email me and let me know how you are doing as well!