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The Power of Relationships

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – living in this culture away from what’s familiar to me has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I will never fully understand why things happen the way they do here in Bundibugyo, but rest assured Jesus knows the ins and outs of every culture and I can cling to that truth when trying my best to understand. The thing that is most redemptive to me in a place that is filled with such heartache is relationships in community.  After spending over a year getting to know neighbors, church members, BundiNutrition + CSB co-workers, as well as my team that is like family to me, I have seen the way that God works in relationships bringing about change in beautiful ways. May He always be glorified within them. There are a few relationship dynamics that I would like to share with you that have been great encouragements to me as of late:
The first one being Mugisa Abraham — if you told me a year ago that I would become best friends with a 35 year-old man missing most of his teeth, I would second-guess your judgment. But here we are — I am best friends with a 35 year-old man missing most of his teeth.  Mugisa is a husband to a beautiful wife and a father to eight children. They live just a stone’s throw away from us in a two-room house made of reeds, mud, and iron sheets. They are currently building a four-room house made of bricks and cement that will provide more space and privacy for their family.
I first met Mugisa at the beginning of my term and I always knew him as “the super happy Ugandan man who washes cars”. It wasn’t until we moved into the new Apprentice Housing in November that I really got to know him. Mugisa was looking for work, so I had him start a few yard projects for me. He went above and beyond what I asked and blew me away with his work ethic.  Mugisa now works for our house three times a week slashing our grass, watering our plants, and teaching me tips and tricks on how to properly garden amidst dry season. He is a man that truly works hard, but plays even harder — and I love it! Mugisa and I are constantly laughing, joking, and teaching one another silly English and Lubwisi phrases.  When I really get him going, he smiles so big, keels over gasping for air, and lets out the best giggle you’ve ever heard while shouting “Bohhhh waiye (friend)!” Safe to say, we get along great and keep each other laughing all day long. Just yesterday, after trying to explain to him in Lubwisi that I was extremely sore from a workout and could barely walk, he walked over to a tree, pulled off a limb, and [laughing uncontrollably] gave it to me to use as a cane. He then proceeded to call me “Maamba Katherine”, meaning old woman, for the rest of the day!

Because of the joy that Mugisa exudes on the daily, no one would ever know that up until a few years ago, Mugisa struggled with alcoholism and came to a breaking point one day when he was left hospitalized. Realizing the major impact this had on his family and his health, he began to abstain from alcohol and seek counsel from church elders and community leaders. He started attending church with his family, eventually leading him to learn more about God's grace and the power of the Gospel. He reminds me to always give thanks to our Lord, often exclaiming "Mukama Asiimwe!" (Praise God) with a big smile. Not only does God pull us out of the deepest pit and redirect our steps, but He also gives us new life in Christ that has the power to restore and redeem — what an encouragement! 
The second comes as a package deal, Ashley and Ashland — yes, these are the two names on the team that cause the most confusion to Ugandans (sometimes they throw my name into the mix and call me, “Asherine”… true story). These two blessings from above and fellow millennials are my roommates here in Bundibugyo.  The ability to come home to a safe space where I will always be received with open arms is a huge gift in a place that can truly strip us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They serve as listening ears, stress-relievers, and ridiculous comedians each and every day. We spend our days in our areas of ministry work, while our evenings are spent together cooking, exercising, watching movies, reading, etc.
I would describe the three of us as a well-oiled tricycle where the two wheels in the back have the ability to affirm, encourage, and strengthen that front wheel that may be stuck or uncertain of which direction to move in. Each of us brings different gifts to the table and that alone is of great encouragement to me in the way that we live and interact with one another. Ashley is one that keeps the house in tip-top shape, makes sure we are taking Sabbath seriously, and intentionally asks how we’re doing emotionally each day. Ashland answers almost every knock at the door, makes sure we’re eating all the protein and veggies, and encourages our heart postures to be open to what God is doing. I think the girls would agree that I manage the yard work, bring comedic relief to almost every conversation, and remind them of the importance of exercising, staying hydrated, and eating three meals a day. We make an awesome team and I’m incredibly thankful to serve alongside two beautifully strong women that show me Jesus every single day.  
The third relationship is with Bahati Zabibu — a beautiful, Ugandan woman of Tanzanian descent that works with me at BundiNutrition on Tuesdays. She fills the role perfectly with having a degree in Nursing, being from the area, and knowing the needs that mothers have in this community. Bahati is the type of person to be extremely shy at first, but when you get to know her, this girl is a spitfire! She is bold, curious, hilarious, and very bright. Bahati frequently calls me “Kathyyyy” and loves to ramble in Lubwisi assuming I understand everything she says… I comprehend about 30%. Whenever Bahati and I get together, it’s like old friends picking right back up where we left off. She teaches me how to bargain for clothes in the market, teases me for my inability to maintain composure when it comes to anything medical, and invites me into her home with no hesitation. She is quickly becoming a sweet and refreshing sister friend to me! 
These relationships are just a snapshot of the many beautiful people that the Lord has placed in my life here. I can’t recall a day where I have not been greeted with a smile by someone that I care so much about – whether they are a teammate, Christ School student, neighbor, house worker, BundiNutrition patient, or shop owner. Every day I see how God uses broken people to bring joy, grace, and humility to relationships and it is such a privilege to receive the love within them. 

Quirks and Perks:

  • Most furniture is handmade in the majority of Uganda. It's an amazing process to see men in workshops building desks, wardrobes, cabinets, couches, and chairs, rarely ever using power tools! I had a nightstand built from scratch, painted, and stained... all for $10!  
  • Fellow teammate and fitness guru, Rhett, transformed a storage container into a private, workout facility for our team to use at any point — fully equipped with a bench press, medicine balls, yoga mats, and a punching bag! 
  • The Ugandan taxi vans, called “matatus”, always have a sticker decal going across the windshield. Many of the slogans say, “Glory to God” or “Jesus is Lord", but my favorites are the following — "Jennifer Lopez", "No Gain Without Pain", "Puff Daddy", and "Bundibugyo Boyz". 
Prayer Requests:
  • Christ School begins Term 1 on Monday – please pray for students and staff as they return to campus and start classes.  I am also getting things organized for our football program and will begin fundraising efforts soon! Please pray that girls would know they are capable of playing a sport, despite what people in this community tell them. 
  • This past week, a conference was held for pastors near and far to learn how to better communicate God's grace and love to their congregations. Pray that God would sustain these pastors amidst the darkness that exists here. 
  • Please pray that I would trust in whatever God has in store for me once I leave Bundibugyo. I am praying for clarity and direction in this season! 

Your Sister in Christ,

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Katherine Thomas · 908 Vestlake Hollow Circle · Birmingham, AL 35242 · USA

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