When vulnerability tears walls down

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This story is the back story to my last post… the story of the day I met Monica and Doreen.

We sat in our team meeting on our fourth morning in Gulu, all teaming up in pairs to go out for the day. Joanna needed someone to come with her to do a discipleship lesson with the two women she had led to Jesus the previous day, so I went with her.

Joanna and I walked to the market where they work, talking through the lesson we were going to do and praying that God would somehow take our measly words and speak to our new friends. We sat down in their tiny shop where they both spent most of their days sitting at a sewing machine. The shop was about half the size of the dining room I’m currently sitting in at my house as I write this, and it was just a hop and a skip from the fish market, so the smell coming through the 90 degree heat was as wonderful as you can imagine, I promise.

And you know, when you’re the only white westerner within a two mile radius, there just isn’t a natural sort of feeling going into the situation. You try to act normal but the reality is that it’s uncomfortable and there’s language barriers and cultural chasms standing between you and everyone else. It’s like a wedgie for your emotions.

Somehow, though, hungry hearts bridge the gap and these women hang on every word we say, because they’re desperate for the hope and joy we claim to have in this Jesus they just met. And I felt the fear of God in a new way, knowing that it would have to be Him and not me that came in to change these new friends’ lives.

Well, we kind of stumbled through the lesson for the first half. Joanna and I kept passing it back and forth as one of us would get frustrated with the language barrier, coming to the end of our internal thesaurus capacity, and hoping the other would have some other word to use that they would understand. 

The lesson was on prayer and there’s a place in the middle where someone is supposed to share a story of God answering a prayer in their life. Joanna shared a story about a family member who was far from God, and how years of praying led to that family member finally turning back to Jesus. 

And then something miraculous happened.

All of a sudden, there was a shift. It was more than a shift, actually. It wasn’t just a subtle, “wait a minute, this feels different.” Barriers were breaking and walls were falling, and you could feel it — it was powerful and I could almost swear that I felt the earth shake in that moment. Suddenly we were just four broken women clinging to a God who heals and restores. Masks had come off and barricades had departed.

Joanna’s vulnerability in sharing a story opened a door for breakthrough, and it was like we all joined hands and busted right through the wall together.

Monica and Doreen shared deep things they were believing God for. Things I’d believed for too, like broken relationships and families. And with tears in our eyes we prayed together to see God deliver our friends and families. Four women with the same heart, no longer separated by language or culture, but united for the sake of His kingdom come. 

This is the power of vulnerability. It’s the power of testimony. When God moves, we tell about it, and it stirs faith in others to believe that He could do the same for them. Stories of His faithfulness bind us together, and even weeks later and on the other side of the world, a part of me remains in that tiny shop in Gulu town. 

And I wonder, how unified would we be if sharing deep stories of the healing and restoring power of Jesus became our normal? 

There’s a lot of life out there.

ImageMy Ugandan Sunday morning started with this word from a friend. I wrote it down in my journal, not thinking much of it, but taking it as encouragement nonetheless. 

I met Joanna in the lobby an hour early and we headed out to Monica’s village. She wanted to come to church with us. We walked a lot of miles that day looking for her. After the first thirty minutes, I became more and more irritated with every step I took. Every winding dirt path that led to another grass roof hut that looked exactly like the last one we thought might have been hers … I felt like I was running up the down escalator, never quite reaching the place I actually needed to go.

And I thought it was peculiar how I kept seeing this strange pattern. A hen with baby chicks. A momma duck with ducklings. A dog with puppies. In retrospect I realized that all along that seemingly pointless wandering to find Monica, God was heralding the coming of new life. 

“Press on, child. What you see in these living parables along your path now, you’ll see in the Spirit next.”

But of course in the moment this isn’t what I’m hearing. Because I was hot and tired, and we were missing worship. I was ready to give up. We couldn’t get a hold of Monica on her phone, and we were lost in her village. 

Joanna, though, steadfast as she is — she wasn’t giving up.

“We have to get her to church. We’re not leaving without her.” She was preaching perseverance and my flesh was too thick between my ears and my heart to really receive it…

…but, well, I wasn’t going to cross her. So we waited some more. Minutes that felt like hours later, a phone call finally went through. Monica was on her way. She finally made it to where we were, and we walked about 20 minutes in the wrong direction plus 20 more minutes back before finally catching a bota to church. I was certain we’d missed it all by now. 

Wrong again. It was kind of starting to hurt.

Of course we made it just at the right time. We found Monica’s friend Doreen, who we’d also met in the market that week. Somehow (or not-so-somehow but by the grace of God) she made it, too. Despite us not being able to reach her all week.

And these two women, whom Joanna had led to Jesus earlier that week, both raised their hands to be baptized the following week. 

The chicks, ducklings and puppies suddenly fled back into my mind. Newness of life. Of course God knew.

Later that afternoon, as I sat down to write all this down, the clouds were rolling in. And I thought, “How timely. Of course the rain is coming.”

Because God always brings the rain to the sun-scorched land when we ask, and when it rains, it pours. Grace, grace, grace … and I was reminded of a word from a friend earlier that week: this trip will be marked by an ocean of grace. And let’s be honest, my heart needed cleansing that day.

So I stopped, and I looked out over the plains and watched the clouds, awaiting the rain. 

And I take a deep breath. There really is a lot of life out there today.

Four words that lit the path forever

There’s something about a long drive. The way it quiets your mind, the way it frees you of distraction, the way it opens the doors of exploration and adventure — I tend to have my best God moments on long drives with Him. Maybe it’s the spacious places and less noise … it just seems like I hear him more clearly.

Last week we were having our day off in Uganda, and we left early one morning to head out for a safari. We left when it was still dark, and as we drove, I watched the sun rise. If you’ve never seen an African sunrise, go ahead and add that one to your bucket list. It was like the opening scene of Lion King, only it was in real life and in colors that only Heaven can produce. 

We must have been driving west, because the sun was rising almost directly behind us as we drove. As I watched the light slowly fill the space around us, I started thinking, “isn’t it crazy that a light from way back behind us is lighting the path in front of us as far as the eye can see?” And all God said was “let there be light” all those years ago, and this is the light that’s been shining ever since.

Four words from the mouth of the Creator lit our paths forever.

If this is the power of the words spoken by God, why don’t I treat everything He speaks this way? That the words He spoke “way back there” … are still lighting my path all the way to the horizon? 

I began to recall His promises, the words He’s spoken over my life and the dreams He’s placed in my heart. And just as I was remembering these things, it was as if time slowed and everything froze for a few seconds. Right there out the window on the Ugandan roadside as we passed by, stood about ten sunflower stalks, just waving at me. My favorite flower. A love sign from the God who sees me. 

And in this moment frozen in time, I hear Him whisper, “I haven’t forgotten you. I delight to delight you. My promises are still lighting your path.”

Suddenly those words of the Psalmist I’ve known my whole life have new meaning. His word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Every. Single. Word.

So I keep hoping, because I know that a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Prov. 13:12) I keep exploring for the concealed matters of God, because I know it’s the glory of kings to search them out. (Prov. 25:2)

And I know there’s new mercies for me every morning, and every morning a new sunrise to light a new path. Each path leads to another path, and somehow God knows how they’ll all work together for my good. It’s what He promised. 

And the prophetic words of a friend prayed over me yesterday continue to echo in my heart…

“It’s bigger than you think.”