ONE YEAR IN THE BOOKS
Yes, Kelly and I have been in Uganda for over a year but more importantly…THE AMAZIMA SCHOOL HAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED ITS FIRST ACADEMIC YEAR!!! WOW!!! We are so completely blown away and humbled by all that has happened in the past year. We watched very shy and timid young men and women come through our gates that first day in February. It took a while for them to open up to their house parents, ask questions of their teachers without fear and to truly get God’s grace with the assurance of salvation. They have a great desire to learn, a joy when serving others and an overall humble, contagious spirit that definitely indicates just how well things are working here. Our students are the talk of the surrounding villages for all the right reasons! Before the year started, the predictions from many were that our students would be spoiled, entitled and resent the families from which they came. Not only were those predictions wrong, any person who has observed our kids in the villages with their families would report the exact opposite.
We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful team at Amazima. As such, we try to stop and take time to just be together as a team and to continually celebrate what is happening around us. Whether it is lunches, dinners, cookouts or Thanksgiving dinner we definitely find time to eat and just hang out. We introduced our Ugandan friends on Kelly’s Student Life Team to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. All of the Westerners on the team brought their favorite Thanksgiving dishes (maybe with a few substitute ingredients, but all turned out amazing) and the Ugandans brought some of their favorite dishes so it was quite the feast. It turned into an afternoon lunch due to the heaviest downpour (we were eating outside) and my turkey not cooking at an adequate pace. The downpour was definitely a gift from God since I tried to cook a 13 pound turkey in a very small oven that would not get above 250º F. After what felt like a dissection in a high school science class and many trials and errors, the turkey turned out great but I definitely learned a lot about how to cook a big turkey in a small oven the hard way 🙂 My mother and mother-in-law would be proud that I cooked down the bones for turkey stock/soup and have lots in the freezer.
Everyone’s schedule on Kelly’s team is similar but at the same time, very different than a normal schedule in that they are off during the day and work mornings and nights when the students are not in school. This makes the time we all have together special and therefore it teaches us to be present. That is what I have learned most this past year…TO BE PRESENT! Whether having tea with a friend, conversations on verandas, watching a movie as a group, being intentional in joining someone’s mess or witnessing whatever fun thing the students are doing at the moment…STOP and TAKE IT ALL IN. My lists, calls and dishes will get done but to truly be present in what is going on around you is irreplaceable.
Take a Look at a Special Night We had at The Amazima School for Thanksgiving:
VISIT TO THE STATES
I got to put this into practice a lot on our recent visit to the States. In October, Kelly and I went to the States mainly for business but I stayed an extra week to hang out with family and friends. Our trip started with a couple of days in Dawsonville for the important things like hair appointments 🙂 We got to spend time with Kelly’s parents and some of our best friends who are taking care of so much for us including our home. We felt very much at ease and not homesick while staying with them. It was such a blessing. Butzin’s you are truly a gift! Getting to be a part of everyday activities with my best friend and be a part of their lives for a few days was life-giving.
Next, we got to spend time in our favorite “home-away-from-home”…AUBURN. A place that will always have my heart and will always be a gathering place for my family. It was like coming home walking onto the loveliest village on the plains. Kelly was asked to be part of the speaker series with Emerge. Emerge at Auburn University is a dynamic leadership program aimed at helping Auburn students develop the leadership skills to lead on campus, in the community and in their future career field. He spoke on passion and vision and was their highest rated speaker to date. It was surreal watching him speak in the very coliseum in which we both graduated. Thank you to everyone who came out to support him!
We also got to spend some time with my family and the 3 crazy dogs that take over while everyone is there. Kelly had to head to Atlanta for the training of the new couples headed to Uganda in January but I stayed in Auburn to get a little more family time with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephew. The latter have grown up way too much but it was wonderful learning what they have been doing and sharing about all things Uganda. Whether it’s playing games, shopping, eating (which we do best) or just hanging out it’s just good for the soul to be with family.
There was, of course, lots of amazing time spent with family and friends in Georgia and Alabama. We were overwhelmed in stores, ate way too much processed and fast food but also got to enjoy a lot of favorites to which we were looking forward. Some of the best times were surprising friends and seeing their reaction and also just “being” and doing regular things like running a simple errand. Our Care Team planned a drop-by event for our local supporters. They surprised us with a photo booth and letters and there were so much love and support in the room that I wish I could have bottled it all up to bring back with us. It definitely filled our hearts and souls for a long time and was very life-giving to a weariness we did not realize we had until then. God knows just when to fill us up and this trip did just that. I got to hold babies, be with friends about to have babies, see friends’ new houses, sit around dinner tables, walk the grocery store, sit in car-pool lines, see new nurseries, hug couples about to be married and ones who were recently married. The icing on the cake was my sweet Megan (who was not due for a week until after I left) had baby Blayke while I was there!!! I got to be with Megan and hold Blayke and Miller together in my arms. What a precious gift!!!
The Rock is the name of our Chapel and the newest addition to The Amazima School campus. It’s where everything happens…student meals, Sunday worship gathering, staff devotions, student assembly, Thursday night student ministry, Saturday night events (move nights, spelling bees, trivia nights, talent shows, games nights, dance parties), end of term/year parties, awards night and celebrations of all kinds.
“….and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” The enemy hates what God is doing at The Amazima School and we are under attack on an almost daily basis. Our rock is Jesus and so the chapel is a constant reminder of the grace, mercy and power of our savior. We have nothing to fear! The Rock (chapel) is the focal point of the entire campus just like Jesus is at the center of everything we do at the school. It wasn’t scheduled to be ready until next year but in what might be a first in the history of Uganda, a construction project was completed 2 months early!
FRIENDS IN UGANDA
At our going away event last July, our good friend Joel Thomas asked God to “bring” us friends in Uganda. While we have certainly settled in well and made lots of friends, there is nothing more encouraging than having friends around from our life back in the States. In this past term, God “brought” us some great visitors. Courtney Flick has been here since August and has been an absolute joy for us! We get to see her most weekends because she likes to attend our worship service on Sunday mornings. Recently, we all got together to watch Andrea and Andrew Cole get married through the wonder of FaceTime ($1 to Bradley Peck with an assist from Ty Anderson). It was a surreal moment for sure. Sitting in Uganda watching two of our favorite people (who in March we witnessed get engaged on the banks of The Nile River) getting married! Near the beginning of the term, Tim Stanley visited for a week all the way from Seattle. Tim was a blessing to us in many ways but most importantly, Tim met with 20 members of our staff to kick-off our mental health program. Tim is a gifted counselor who loves what is happening at Amazima and his efforts will directly impact the culture we are trying to build here.
As I mentioned previously, Kelly flew back to Uganda a week earlier than me but fortunately for him, he had some traveling companions. Drew Sheintal and his son Tate went with him and then spent a week hanging out with Kelly in Jinja. It was awesome for Kelly to have them on the ground with him so soon after being in the States. With Drew and Tate there, he was able to get right back into the swing of things without any culture adjustments. Thanks Drew! Since I wasn’t around there is no picture of them 😦
The students are back with their families until the first week of February and Amazima is shut down for the rest of the year. The next couple of weeks will be of rest and reflection. We thank God each and every day for allowing us to play a small part of what He is doing in Uganda….which is something huge! Term 3 saw an entire student body take measurable steps forward in their character, faith and educational performance. The prefects, along some guidance from their advisors, planned spelling bees, talent shows, trivia nights, and a whole host of successful activities throughout the term. Appropriately, we ended the school year with the inaugural Awards Night at The Amazima School. While it was exciting to see our students honored for their success, the biggest win and most emotional aspect of the entire evening was the attendance of our students’ guardians. 68 of our 72 students were represented by family at the awards ceremony! This NEVER happens in Uganda because families are not encouraged nor do they feel welcome to play a role in the education of their children. We can say with certainty that our families are ALL IN with The Amazima School and of all things we measure, this is most important. As God is transforming our students, we have to build meaningful relationships with their families to make sure the students are received well and encouraged in their growth. The heart of Amazima has always been the family and we are beyond humbled to see God work so mightily through us in this key area.
If you would like to give a year-end gift to support our efforts on the ground in Uganda, please go to https://rceinternational.webconnex.com/53904. Thank you!
Thanks for all the prayers and support throughout the year!!!
Have a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!