down by the river

I’m sure people must be wondering what I’m up to these days.  Such a release of big news and then quiet.  Well, the past few months have really passed quickly and my whole world has changed in such a short period of time!  Sometimes change is hard and uncomfortable, and sometimes its full of excitement and joy.  I’m a person who embraces change, so these past months have been both wonderful and challenging all at once.

I got married to Dr. Emma on April 5th, we went to the coast of Kenya for our honeymoon, came back to Uganda on a 22 hour bus ride, and moved into our new apartment with Emma’s our year old son all in a matter of two weeks.  I went from being a single missionary living in a hotel room (maid included) to being a wife, mother, and housekeeper all at once.  Not to mention still being a missionary.  Ok, and I admit I still have a maid two days a week but I can do my own housework just fine.

Needless to say, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time adjusting to my new roles and trying to remember how to cook again!  Married life is just great, my husband is a sweetheart, my son Ian is a sweetie with a stubborn side, and cooking again has had both its good and bad moments.  At least I can say I haven’t started any major fires yet.  The joys of married life and motherhood are many, and also the challenges of this new life are equally present each day.  My husband and I like to look at them as positive challenges which will bring us closer together as we overcome them.

As you can imagine, bringing two people together from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences and viewpoints sure has its interesting moments.  Thankfully, my husband isn’t your standard traditional African.  He enjoys a cup of cappuccino regularly, has exquisite but simple taste in fashion, and doesn’t leave the house without putting on his Old Spice deodorant (not that he needs it much).  I guess you could say he’s almost American, really.  Thank you Jesus.

Through all of these life events and changes, there’s one thing that’s remained constant throughout.  There’s no doubt that God has been with us.  In the busy times and in the slow times, it has been overwhelmingly evident that God’s love and our love for each other has carried us forward.  With the confidence that the Lord is ever present, we are ready to face the mountains and valleys ahead of us.

For those of you who missed our wedding (most all of you), here are some photos of our lovely day.  We got married in Jinja, Uganda under a big old tree by the Nile River.  We had a real dream team of people helping us out that day and couldn’t have pulled it off without them.  I had an amazing wedding planner, florist, makeup artist, hair stylist, personal assistant, photographer, guitar player, violin player, and pastor;many of them missionaries, and all giving their time and talents free of charge.  I was truly overwhelmed with the goodness and generosity of these sweet people.  What a blessing to have each one of them as part of our wedding memories.  We wish that everyone could have traveled from the States to be with us, but we knew that would be asking a lot!  So hopefully this year we can travel to Virginia for a visit so Emma can meet all of my family and friends that have been so loving and supportive of us from across the ocean.  Aside from his passport and entry visa, my biggest challenge will be getting this man to overcome his fear of plane crashes and disappearing flights.  Any suggestions?

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As we plan for our future, both Emma and I know that God brought us together for a reason. We are looking forward to seeing His plan for us as it is slowly revealed.  I’ve learned that the plans we make for ourselves are not the plans God has in mind.  No matter how many paths we go down on our own, the Lord always redirects us to the destination He intended for us to reach.  I look back at my life and sometimes wonder how I got here.  I wonder how a happily single career woman in Virginia with a degree in Interior Design and no desire for children ended up as a happily married missionary in Africa, wife to a Ugandan/Rwandan doctor, and mother to a breathtakingly handsome four year old.  Is this for real?

My mom recently told me she was talking to my cousin and updating her on all my new adventures, and my cousin bluntly replied “who is this lady?”  I just laughed when I heard the story and understood why she was so perplexed.  I’ve thought about it and I believe that the answer to this question about me can only be explained using one simple word: LOVE.

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The Bible says in 1 Corinthians that when you love God, you are fully known by Him.  God knows us more than we know ourselves.  God sees our hearts when we are blind to what’s inside of us.  He makes sense of our lives when we don’t even know we are confused.  I came to Uganda with a heart full of love for God and for people.  I left what was normal and comfortable to me or a new life in a faraway nation.

I surely didn’t come here looking for a husband, but God knew I needed someone to take care of me.  God knew I needed someone to love me as much as I was loving others.  I was happy here on my own (see my blog post “my peace”) but God honored the sacrifice I made for HIM by giving me a gift I didn’t know I needed.  God knew my heart more than I knew it myself.  Now I can thank Him everyday for the man that I fearlessly love.  I never even believed this kind of love existed, but now I know it’s real.  That kind of love – for God and for man- can really make you do things you never planned or imagined.

The Bible says a lot about love, most importantly it says without love we are nothing.  There are a few tried and true scriptures that people always recite at weddings to describe love.  I chose a less well-known verse that was sent to me the morning of my wedding from my dear friends Glenn and Sally, missionaries that serve God tirelessly and love each other wholeheartedly.

from Song of Solomon 8:6-7

Set me as a seal on your heart, a seal on your arm.

For love is as strong as death…

Love’s flames are fiery flames- the fiercest of all.

Mighty waters cannot extinguish love; rivers cannot sweep it away.

People say we look so happy in these wedding photos by the Nile River.  I guess there’s a joy in knowing that as long as we keep Jesus as our foundation, even if our love fell off into that big ancient river, the water would never put out the fire and the current would never carry it away.

I can just imagine God out there in a white water raft catching all of the love that’s fallen overboard into the river and lifting it back onto the banks for those people who thought their love was gone forever.  Love isn’t easy, and marriage isn’t going to be easy either, but I know that with commitment- like a seal on our hearts – the flames might flicker from time to time but with God the fire will never be extinguished.

Maegan is still the lady that people knew from before, but now love has just made her a better version of herself; and given her a new last name!  Hope you get to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gahima very soon!

 

An unexpected love

Please accept my apologies for taking so long to post an update.  The past two months have been a blur of airplane flights, my 30th birthday in Ethiopia, six weeks of being frozen in Roanoke, visits with dearly loved friends and family, a surprising news article with my face on the front page of the newspaper (a bit uncomfortable for me!), and almost a month of getting adjusted to a new role in Uganda in a newly formed ministry organization.  I’ve hardly been able to concentrate enough to sit down and type.

I’m here now and have so much to say.  One thing I didn’t mention above is a hundred phone calls to Uganda during those 6 weeks in Virginia.  Some of you know about those hundred phone calls, but many of you don’t.  I had loads of comments from people I know and love over those six weeks and all of them were about this “glow” that I had that they just couldn’t put their finger on.  They’d say “Maegan, I know you love your work in Uganda, but there’s just something else that’s making you glow with happiness”!

The truth is: It’s because of an unexpected love.  Those phone calls were to a doctor in a village in north eastern Uganda.  That brilliant, generous, honest, loving, and faithful doctor is now my husband to be.  We both know that God brought us together in an unexpected and beautiful way and we thank Him daily for this gift.  Dr. Emma (Emmanuel) came into my life at a time when I wasn’t looking.  God knew my heart and He knew what I needed, even when I didn’t know myself.  I have learned so much about love, relationship, and truth from this man and I look forward to every day of our life together.

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We plan to continue working in Uganda for at least one year and be open to any other place in the world where God leads.  We have committed to supporting each other in our work and taking as many opportunities as we can to work and serve God together.  One of those opportunities is in a village about one hour from where I am currently living in Uganda.  As the Regional Director of Life Center Ministries – Africa, I will be part of the effort to develop a project that will impact the hearts and lives of many people, both physically and spiritually.  As it turns out, this project wouldn’t be completely possible without Dr. Emma’s help.

LCMA is an organization formed in partnership several Roanoke, VA based organizations:  New Life Christian Ministries, Gentle Shepherd Hospice, and Kissito Healthcare International.  LCMA was formed to carry out the mission of God through the vision of a few faithful, generous, and passionate people.  In a village called Butiru, there is currently an 8 acre plot of land with a under utilized hospital, the foundation of a new church, and a twice monthly nutritional feeding program for severely malnourished children.  As LCMA continues developing and expanding this project, there will soon be a bustling health center where villagers will receive high quality care at an affordable price.  There will be a life saving nutritional outreach program that will both educate mothers and treat children affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition.  With prayers and support, there will also be an inpatient treatment center for severely malnourished children.  Finally, there will be a new 500 seat church and discipleship center that will be the base for a thriving ministry seeking to reach the nations with the Truth of the love of Jesus.

photo    Butiru Hospital

Steve and Katrenna Sandy and their children Phillip and Katie are also missionaries from Roanoke, and have moved to Uganda to oversee these projects.  Steve will be managing construction, the daily activities on the compound, and the agricultural programs and ministry activities.  Katrenna will be taking the lead on the nutrition program in partnership with Renee Bach of Serving His Children, another Roanoke based ministry located in Uganda.

Interestingly enough, neither Steve, Katrenna, nor I have any medical experience whatsoever.  God has a good way of getting people out of their comfort zones when there’s something big He wants us to do. When we take a step of faith outside of the comfort zone, it seems like He always sends someone to the rescue.  That’s where Dr. Emma comes in.  He is currently the Medical Officer in charge of another local government hospital in a nearby village.  He manages the facility and staff while being on call to perform emergency C-sections and other surgeries.  Emma has a wealth of medical knowledge, the heart of a leader, and the gift of healing.  People in the community refer to him as a doctor with blessed hands, as every one he treats or performs surgery on just seems to get better.  The best part about his gift is that he humbly gives credit to God for every successful surgery and saved life.

The hospital project in Butiru requires some serious work and planning, neither of which myself or my American counterparts are capable of doing.  Dr. Emma has the experience and skills to get this hospital in shape, and running efficiently.  There is even a fully stocked surgical theatre in the hospital, just sitting there waiting for a qualified doctor.  Once a doctor is on staff (they currently don’t have one) the surgical theater can become fully operational and capable of receiving women in obstructed and complicated labor.  It seems like God has brought us all together for such a time as this.  Only God knows the plans He has for us.  Only He has the ability to use us to carry out His plans.

What I know is that I am thankful.  I am thankful for the gift of life.  I am thankful for this opportunity to do God’s work in Uganda.  I am thankful for this rare opportunity to experience true, overwhelming, amazing love.  I am thankful for this man God sent me to from halfway across the world.

But maybe only God knows the purpose of this unexpected love.

Dr. Emma taught me something his mom taught him when he was young.  The most precious gift is the gift of LIFE.  As long as we are breathing, we are living.  As long we have life, we have HOPE.

And The Bible teaches us that three things in life remain: Faith, Hope and Love, and the “greatest of these is love”.

 

 

love heals

We found 2 year old baby Musa on August 4th.  His mother Lydia brought him to Bugobero Health Center for our twice- monthly supplemental feeding program for malnourished children.  It was obvious as soon as we saw him that his condition was severe; too complicated to handle in an outpatient program.   His face and limbs were swollen, his skin was broken and peeling, there was fluid draining from the open wounds on his legs.  He looked more like a burn victim than the typical image of a hungry African child of no more substance than skin and bones.  Musa was different, and sadly there are many other cases just like his in the villages of Uganda.  Musa was suffering from a condition called Kwashiorkor which occurs when the body doesn’t receive the proper nutrients and proteins.  The body swells (called oedema), the skin begins to darken, harden and peel, and the child becomes very weak and unable to walk.

Musa 2 Aug 4 Musa on Day 1

We immediately advised Lydia to go home, gather her things, and come back to the health center.  From there, we transported Lydia, Musa, and four other severely malnourished children and their mothers to Mbale Regional Hospital, an hour’s drive from the village.  In cases such as these, when outpatient feeding isn’t enough, it’s necessary to refer these children to the malnutrition unit at the Regional Hospital.  It sounds simple, but with this solution comes a problem.  FEAR.  Recovery can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.  Many of these mothers have never left their mud houses in the village.  Some of them have seven other children to care for at home.  Some of them don’t have a single coin in their pocket.  They fear the unknown; they fear for the ones they leave behind, they even fear that their husbands will find another wife.  The excuses for staying home are endless, and we’ve heard them all.  Unfortunately, in some cases the fear of the mother leads to the death of a child.

On this particular day in August, five courageous mothers climbed into the vehicle with us and made the journey to Mbale.  All five children had other medical complications in addition to severe malnutrition.  Because of these other complications, the typical first stop at the hospital is the Acute Pediatric Ward where the children stay until they are medically stable.  Only five minutes in this place is enough to make anyone want to run.  Imagine dirty, tattered mattresses, three children to a bed, mothers sleeping on the floor, and a line of screaming children waiting for IV’s administered by overworked and impatient government employed nurses.  There have been times we’ve been in the ward when the doctor decides to peace out, leaving the nurse who shortly gives up and also leaves.  There could be a period of hours before the next nurse’s shift begins.  Parents are left broken and confused as they beg for help but are sometimes left unattended.  The scene in that ward is always heartbreaking.  The place is not for the weak or faint at heart.

We have an amazing nutrition team made up of Angella – nutritionist, Phiona – Nurse, Lindsey – Public Health Officer, and me – missionary. As supporters of these women and children, we try to do our best to make them as comfortable as possible so they will stay at the hospital.  We know that the odds that the mothers will give up and run back home are fairly high.  There’s nothing we can really do to force them to stay besides counsel them as best as we can in the best interest of the lives of the children.  Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.  Despite our daily visits to the ward, and the assistance with food, soap, blankets, and other necessities, sometimes our efforts aren’t enough to keep the mothers from running.  That was the case with Lydia and Musa.  Lydia claimed that Musa was her sister’s child and not her own.  She later told us that wasn’t the truth, but we figured it out for ourselves when we saw her love and compassion for her suffering little boy.  She was ashamed that she had gotten her baby into this condition, so it was just easier for her to deny that the child was even hers.  At the tender age of only 25, Lydia had already lost two other children; maybe she just didn’t want to admit to herself she might lose another one.

Because of Musa’s critical condition, we would personally transport him to a private hospital for special care of the open wounds on his little legs and then take him back to the Nutrition Unit at the Regional Hospital.  Our team fell in love with baby Musa and made it our mission to make sure he recovered.  You would think that Lydia would have been our biggest supporter.  In reality, she became our biggest adversary.  We received a call one afternoon from the nurse at the Nutrition Ward.  Lydia had escaped with Musa and was most likely on the run back to the village.  In a bit of a panic, we decided to drive to the taxi park hoping to catch her before she boarded the taxi.  We sat for a while, watching the crowds move until we began to lose hope.  With God’s merciful intervention, we spotted Lydia with baby Musa tied to her back.  As we approached her, a crowd quickly gathered around her as people realized she was trying to escape the hospital with a sick baby.  Stern voices turned into shouts and finger pointing, as the people surrounding Lydia tried to convince her to go back to the hospital.  I still don’t know exactly what was said that day, but somehow Lydia finally relented and found herself in the car with us on the way back to the hospital.  That was only the beginning of the day’s drama.

When we arrived back at the malnutrition unit, it was obvious Lydia wasn’t happy.  She left Musa alone on a bench and frantically dialed numbers on her phone hoping for someone to rescue her.  She was prepared to abandon Musa and find her own way out.  That’s when we called in Child Protection and Family Services.   Much to our surprise, Lydia told the officers that we were mistreating her and continued with other lies that made us sound like we were to blame.  After we explained our side of the story, they began to see that Lydia’s story just didn’t add up.  At one point there was quite a scene, which made for exciting entertainment for the rest of the women at the unit.  Even the police came to help sort out the story.  By the end of the evening it was clear to everyone that Lydia was quite mixed up…and did I mention she was 7 months pregnant at the time?  We think her hormones were maybe causing some of her emotional outbursts.  Regardless, by the end of all the drama we convinced Lydia to stay there with Musa so he could complete his recovery there.  Or so we thought…

For the next few weeks we continued to visit Lydia and Musa, although less frequently to ensure that she didn’t feel more “special” that the other women.  We sat with her, we prayed with her.  Gradually, her attitude began to change.  She went from being ungrateful and uncooperative to appreciating our dedication and acknowledging our love.  Her deep, intense frowns began to turn upside down.  We were also happy with Musa’s progress as his skin was improving, the odema was reducing, and he was even starting to walk again.  Even Lydia and Lindsey were starting to form a bond of friendship.  Our prayers were being answered.  Then abruptly, the news came.  Lydia disappeared again.  This time it was too late to catch her.

photo (6) Musa walking again

A few more weeks went by and we didn’t really have any new information about Lydia or Musa.  We asked some community health workers and they didn’t know much about her whereabouts or Musa’s condition.  We decided to take a day trip out to the village and look for her, not knowing what we would find or how we would be received.  The others on our team expected the worst from Lydia – they thought she would hide from us or chase us away.  I knew in my heart the story would be different.  I imagined a smiling face and a grateful heart.  When we arrived at her home we found Musa’s grandmother straight from the garden, barefoot and filthy.  She welcomed us with a smile and proudly presented to us a normal, healthy baby Musa.  We were so happy.  Musa wasn’t so happy to see us however, because he remembered us being around when he was really sick.

Some village kids disappeared into the fields, running as fast as their legs could carry them.  When they emerged again from the trees in the distance, we could see the unmistakable figure of Mama Musa walking quickly towards us with a 5 gallon can of water on her head, now 8 months pregnant.  As she approached us, she was absolutely glowing.  Her smile went from ear to ear, as she laughed excitedly, unable to contain her joy.  She was genuinely happy to see us.  She hugged each one of us, more than once, and explained in the local language how she and Musa had been doing.  The people in the village were amazed at Musa’s recovery and even more amazed that we actually showed up for a visit.

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It was at that moment we all realized how powerful love really is.  Love means never giving up on someone.  Lydia understood that we came far into the village that day to show her that we loved her and her baby.  She finally realized despite the abuse and the lies from her in the past:  we had forgiven her.   Maybe for the first time in her life she really felt truly loved.  The power of love had healed her baby and healed our hearts.  That kind of love isn’t possible if we search for it inside ourselves.  That love is only possible through God’s grace.  The kind of grace that comes from sacrificing a Son so that love could live in all of us.  On that day in the middle of a village in Uganda, I saw God’s plan of rebellion, redemption, forgiveness and hope come together in a moment of pure LOVE.  Happiness like that can’t be created by human plans.  Only God can put the perfect people together at the perfect time so that His love becomes undeniable.

God’s love is like that with all of us.  As many times as we may run from Him, He never gives up on us.  He never leaves us, never forgets us, never abandons us.  In His forgiveness and grace, He comes to find us in the deepest and darkest corners of our hearts, and shines His light of love into our souls.  We are healed because HE IS LOVE.

photo_5 Musa’s typical big eyed glare

We continued to keep in touch with Lydia in the weeks to come, and one early morning at 4 am, Lindsey received a call from her.  She explained that she had just finished giving birth to her baby girl on the dirt floor of her village home.   Everything was fine and the baby was healthy.  The next day we went to visit.  In typical African style, Lydia was up and moving around like it was just a normal day, Musa was parading around naked with some food in his hands, and the new baby was sleeping contently as we proudly passed her around our circle of visitors.

In such a happy time, we also had to face sadness.  Earlier in the week, one of Lydia’s neighbors brought her child for our feeding program.  Baby Anna had severe oedema and we advised the mother to come with us to Mbale Regional.  We tried everything but couldn’t get her to agree.  She went home with baby Anna.  Two days later we received the call that Anna had passed away.  After meeting Lydia’s new baby, Lydia took us to the home of Mama Anna.   We gathered at the grave of baby Anna with the entire family, both poverty and grief stricken.   We prayed with them, offered our condolences, and left them in peace.  We didn’t go to place blame or to accuse her of neglect.  We just went to offer our support.  I think she was surprised, I hope she was comforted.

IMG_2429 Anna’s family

That’s life in Uganda.  There are days when you experience both sadness and joy, darkness and light, suffering and healing.  One thing always remains that same and that is LOVE.  Love can’t just be a feeling, love has to be an action.  Love is present in good times and in bad. Because of people like Lydia I know that love can’t be a project or an initiative.  Love is about individual hearts and unique people united by the hand of God.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” – 1 John 3:18

We had been waiting to hear what Lydia named her baby girl.  (It’s typical for Ugandans to wait a while before naming their babies because many children don’t make it past the first few days of life).  We finally learned the name of the baby: Lindsey.  Lydia’s friend who never gave up on her and loved her despite her flaws now has a namesake.  Sadly, Lindsey is moving back to her home country of Kenya at the end of this year.  We will miss our dear sister, but the spirit of love inside of her will always be remembered through the life of a special little girl.

IMG_2451 Lydia, Lindsey and Lindsey

**I hope you are enjoying the stories of these individuals that have helped me to love and be loved in this place.  More to come!

I’ll be waiting for you

I recently read an article about international social justice written by a young lady who had developed an organization in Africa and arrived there hoping to change the world.  Her lessons learned touched my heart and have prompted me to begin sharing stories of the individuals whom I have truly loved here in Uganda.  People should not be seen as projects to serve our own interests.  We should look for the human and for the divine inside of every individual and love them for who they are.

Here’s a link to the article:

http://storylineblog.com/2013/02/15/idealism-in-africa/

And an excerpt:

<“The I-Thou relationship occurs when two people see each other, simply, as people created by God in His image. There is no qualification of poor or rich or us or them. I-Thou sees the humanity and the divinity within each person. Conversely, I-It exists when a person sees the other as an object to be used to serve his or her interest. It gives a person permission to define, label and objectify the other person. To romanticize Africa is to make an “it” of the place and the people.”>

So, the first person I want to tell you about is Phiona.

I’ve mentioned her in previous posts, but this one is just for her.  The woman is truly an angel.   I met her by divine appointment only 3 weeks after I arrived in Uganda.  I’ll never forget first seeing her on the sidewalk by the main road in Mbale Town.  I was in a truck on the way to a village medical outreach and we were stopping in town to pick up some more volunteers.  As soon as I saw Phiona I knew we would be friends.  I could tell she was different and I saw Jesus in her immediately.  She was a true beauty, wearing a black skirt and top, red earrings, a red belt, and cute little flat shoes (African’s are very fashionable by the way).  We greeted each other, she got into the truck, and we talked all the way to the village.  From then on she has been the sister I never had.  One day we went to have dresses made and found that we were exactly the same body measurements.  Our hands are even the same size.  I think God created us, at different ends of the earth, to one day work together for His mission.  Not a day goes by where we don’t communicate.  I can always count on her.  She’s never disappointed me, not once.   I can’t imagine my life in Uganda without her.

Maegan and Phiona

Phiona’s life hasn’t been easy.  She grew up in the village, was mistreated by her step father whom she thought was her real father.  She found herself living on the streets and doing shameful things just to survive.  She was raped by a friend of her brother and conceived a child at the age of 19.  She was able to put herself through nursing school and find work in a hospital. By that time she had given birth to two more children and was so poor that she had to hide her children at the hospital during the day, and then they all slept on the floor there at night.  She had become an alcoholic to dull the pain of her problems, which only caused more problems for her.  One night she decided she would just have to end the lives of her children so they wouldn’t have to suffer with her anymore.   At the lowest point in her life, God intervened and saved her from the life she was living.  She accepted Christ as her Savior and from there she began serving Him.  She met a handsome young pastor named David who befriended her and helped her support her children.  After a few years of friendship they married and had their first child together and named her Divine.

Pastor David was also a street kid and spent many of his teenage years living in the church orphanage, meanwhile being groomed to become the associate pastor because of that obvious calling on his life.   Many people advised Pastor David not to marry Phiona because of her rocky past.  David responded to them that Phiona was the woman for him, and that if He serves a God of transformation, then he believed that Phiona was a new woman in Christ.  After five years of marriage, these two love each other more every day.   Their family continues to grow, but they are praying for a biological son.  You see, this couple loves and cares for more than 10 children in their home, many of which are not their own.  Because of their experience of being street children, David and Phiona have a big heart for children in similar situations.  They have taken in my 13 year old friend Brian as their own (See Brian’s story beginning in the February posts on this blog).   Brian recently shared that his new Mommy and Daddy are the only people in his life that have ever had patience with him.  The only people who have truly shown him love.

Isn’t that the kind of follower Jesus wants all of us to be? Pastor Rick Warren of “The Purpose Driven Life” says: Love is about sacrificing, serving, surrendering, sharing, supporting, and even suffering for others.

On a salary of about $100 per month, this couple struggles to feed their children, but they continue to serve the Lord with joy and love. I know Jesus more by knowing them.  I see Him in the way they live their lives of sacrifice.

Despite being a talented and experienced nurse, Phiona has been unemployed as long as I have known her.  Instead of giving up, she has used her time wisely to learn, grow, and find ways to provide for her family.  She volunteers her time serving as the nurse at the orphanage, working with our nutrition team on outreach days, and expanding her small food production and packaging business.  She is the women’s fellowship leader at church, organizes conferences, prays for the sick, leads worship in the choir, and has a passion for sharing the gospel.  She is a woman of dignity, character, and strength.  She never asks for a hand out, and chooses to be a woman who walks in the Light of truth.  One of the most difficult jobs in the world is to be a Pastor’s wife.  People are always looking to you, analyzing you, judging you, and counting on you.  It’s a job that can break you if you’re not strong enough.

There are only two times I’ve seen this lady broken, but I’ve never seen her defeated.   Once was when she lost the baby she had been waiting on for so long because of a miscarriage.  Even then, she was up the next day doing her normal tasks and trusting in God’s perfect plan for her life.   There have been many times when I’ve called Phiona on the phone and we’ve discussed when and where to meet each other.  Before we hang up the phone she always says, “Maegan, I’ll be waiting for you”.   When she says it I feel like I’m so important to her that she won’t be doing anything but waiting for me to arrive.

Isn’t that what Jesus’ love is like?  No matter whom we are, what we have done, what our past looks like, or how many mistakes we’ve made, Jesus’ love is always there waiting for us.  He loves us so much that He will continue pursuing us no matter how many times we try to run away.  Because of my sister Phiona’s life of sacrifice, I see living proof of the power of love.  She continues to wait patiently for her breakthrough.  She continues to pray for provision for her family, for new opportunities to serve, for one son to carry on her husband’s name.   The constant struggle she faces only makes her stronger.  When something brings her down she gets back up again with more passion than before.  Her dream is to open her own orphanage on family land in the village.  She wants to bring hope into the lives of children that have stories just like hers.  Rejection and abandonment are commonplace in Africa, but there are only a few that live through it to give their testimonies.  I am thankful that God chooses people like Phiona to change the world; an abandoned street girl whose life was transformed by the living God.  People like me won’t really change the world, but I know God sent me to Uganda to love the people who can.

My eyes well up with tears when I think about what will happen in December when I leave Uganda for a Holiday break.  I’ll say “bye for now” to my dearly loved friend and she will reply “I’ll be waiting for you” as if she won’t be doing anything but expectantly preparing for my return.

 

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Phiona and baby Musa – recovered from malnutrition

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Phiona with her mother Florence

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Anna, this Italian/Ugandan orphan stole Phiona’s heart

As Phiona prepares for the return of her friend; likewise, let us all live life as though we are expectantly preparing for the return of our Redeemer.

These words of King David remind me of my strong and courageous sister Phiona:

“I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous.

Wait for the Lord”

-PSALM 27:13-14

*In my next post I will share the story of another individual who has helped me to see the beauty of life in Africa.

my peace

I never planned on moving to Africa.  Five years ago when I looked toward my future I envisioned a normal life, a growing career, a cute little house, perhaps even a family.  Fast forward to two years ago and most of those expectations had come to reality; but my hopes for the future had drastically changed.  One trip to Haiti redirected the course of my life.

Fast forward again to the present day and I find myself in a crowded little town in eastern Uganda.  Instead of the normal, stable, organized life I could have had; I’ve spent the past 9 months on bumpy dirt roads, in smelly village health centers, and at 4 hour multi-language church services.  I’m a volunteer – with no salary.  I live in one disorganized and outdated room in a house full of people I didn’t even know a year ago.   I don’t have a husband and I’m terrified of giving birth to another human being.

God sure has a way of bursting our safe little comfortable bubbles, doesn’t He?  The description of my life right now would make most people have pity on a 29, soon to be 30 year old-maid.  The poor girl is alone on the dark continent with no family, no money, and no stability in her life.  Somebody should rescue her, right?

The truth is, this girl couldn’t be more content and at peace.  That lofty American dream that so many people spend their lives chasing will always be unattainable.  The life I could have had back home would be all about keeping up with the pace, making more money, getting more stuff, and comparing my life to everyone else’s.

Over the past few years as I have given my life more fully to Jesus, the less interested I’ve become in  that other way of life.  No matter how settled and perfect the American dream might seem, there will always be that constant struggle of wanting to have more and never being satisfied   Wanting to be more, but never being at peace with who you truly are.  As many times as people try to deny it, all humans are created to live their lives for their Creator, and until they do it, they’ll never have true peace in their hearts.

That’s why I can say I have peace in my current situation.  I don’t mind the dusty, bumpy roads, I’m not bothered by the dirty kids who pee wherever they feel like.  I have a blast living with my new African friends; I am overwhelmed with love for the family that I’ve been blessed with here in Uganda.  God’s provision has been abundant.  I’ve never felt more a part of something worthwhile than I do in this place.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Family photo

 FAMILY PHOTO

I realize now that it wasn’t Haiti that changed me.  It wasn’t the dose of reality I got from seeing absolute poverty.  It wasn’t the new perspective I got from seeing the joy shining in the faces of people with nothing.  It wasn’t even the spiritual re charge that I got from serving the poor and needy.  What changed me was LOVE.  Love isn’t about ourselves, it’s about who we are loving.  I was tired of loving myself, my life, my comfort zone.  Jesus helped me to finally do what I was created to do; love Him.  God made us to live in community, help each other, and allow Jesus to love others through us.  It’s nothing that I did other than open my heart and be willing.  Jesus took my willing heart, changed it, and helped me find my purpose.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

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THE DUSTY ROADS OF UGANDA

There would never be any peace for me at this time in my life if I was living the “dream”.  God gave me a new dream and it has to do with His mission.  Many days I wonder how I got here, why I’m here, and what the heck I’m going to do over the next couple of years.  I have to remind myself that the only thing I have to focus on is Jesus.  If my purpose of coming here was just to love one malnourished orphan, one struggling pastor’s wife, or one lost and rejected teen, God has accomplished his work in me.

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 I’m far from perfect, but still I have peace.  There are many unknowns, but I live without fear.

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 NLT

old people, new vision

Saturday was a good day.  I woke up sick and didn’t feel like getting up, but I knew I had a commitment to work in the village with Mbale Christian Women Ministries on a medical/gospel outreach.  My friend Cheyne Pizzino back in Roanoke had sent a donation of 144 pairs of reading glasses from his newly formed organization called Seeing to Read.  I knew I couldn’t just send the glasses and not go myself…besides, I was really looking forward to being a part of this new project.

So I got myself together and I went.  I’m really happy that I did because the day was really a success.  I enjoyed working with Freda and Janet, two eye specialists from the Regional Hospital who volunteered with us for the day.  We started out in a little mud walled building, home of Deliverance Church.   There were about 60 people in that little place and they had been patiently waiting for us to arrive.  They sang, they praised, they made introductions, and then my friend Phiona shared a Word of encouragement with them.  Next, we called them in groups of 10 to a nearby building for a variety of services including general exams, HIV testing and counseling, and vision screening.  The entire community was invited to come.

Many were old, some were young.  Many were believers, some were not.  All were in need.  Nobody showed up just to get something for free or take advantage.  Everyone had a genuine health concern.  Surprisingly, all were polite and well behaved – rare to have a village gathering without something wild happening.

Freda and Janet screened those over 40 years old in need of reading glasses and I chose the frames that would flatter their faces and took down their names and ages.  It was such a joy to be a part of the day and we worked late until everyone that needed a pair got them.  They were happy because once again they will be able to sew, read their Bibles (if they can read), clip their fingernails, and enter airtime codes into their phones.  Before, they just got by as best as they could and struggled to do the simple things that they used to be able to do with ease.

I loved hearing each “shank shou” (thank you with a heavy accent) and watching their smiles and laughter as they saw themselves in a photo I took of each of them.  It was funny that many of them didn’t even know their age or highly underestimated it.   Some claimed to be in their 50’s when they appeared to be not a day under 70.  I think we have that problem in the US too.

The day was organized and calm (not usual in Uganda) as we took time with each person and listened to them respond to the questions they were asked during the eye exams.  Only a few of them spoke any English.  The deep lines on their faces made it obvious to me how difficult their lives had been.  I wondered how they had even survived for so long.  I wondered what their stories were, how they lived, what they had seen in a lifetime of toil and hardship.  I wondered how many babies they had raised and how many didn’t make it past the age of 5.  I wondered how they lived through the terrors of Idi Amin’s killings (president during the 70’s) and how many of their family members they had to bury over the years.  Still they carry on.  Still they can smile.  Some life still remains behind their tired eyes.

I cut the tag off of each new pair of readers and polished the lenses with my skirt fabric.  I hoped that each of them would wonder why this little white girl would do such a thing for them.  I pray they understand that the care I took with each pair was a display of LOVE for them and respect for their lives of labor, suffering, hardship and strength.

I’ve always loved old people, but on this day I gained a new respect for them.  I had to look into their eyes and see their determination.  They haven’t given up on life, even though they are nearing their last days.  They still bathe (most of them) and dress themselves – quite nicely at that, and they groom themselves rather well considering most have no mirror or can’t even see well anyway.  They cared enough about their quality of life to walk to that little mud building and wait in line for hours just to have a chance to get a new pair of reading glasses.  I think for some people these glasses could really change their lives and give them more freedom for how ever many days they might have left.  What a blessing freedom is.

Most of these old timers had such a peace about them and I believe it’s only because they have confidence in their eternity.  Their long life on earth was short compared to their next life with Jesus.  Behind those eyes I saw glimpses of our Savior.

                Old man

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The Bible says this about SIGHT:  “Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  – Luke 21-22

Oftentimes the elderly are forgotten and neglected.  Their hair is white, their hearing is bad, and they shuffle instead of walk, but they live each day like it’s their last.  The truth is, all people regardless of age need to realize that today could be the last. I remember the day I was with my grandma Hubbard when she passed away in a nursing home in 2002.  My grandpa loved her more than life itself.  By that time he couldn’t hear a thing and he was getting a little bit kooky from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  The thing I’ll never forget is the clarity of the words he said to Grandma after she took her last breath.  Through his tears he managed to tell her “Bye bye Sugar, I’ll see you in heaven”.   What faith he had to be sure that they would be together again someday.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight…”-  2 Corinthians 5:7

Being sure about your eternity all comes down to FAITH.  If you have faith in Jesus as your Savior and the only way to God, if you turn away from your sins (we all have them) and toward your loving Creator, you can have the peace that these old Ugandans have and the confidence to look forward to that day when you leave this crazy earth and settle in that room He has prepared for you in heaven.

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 Maegan, Grandma and Grandpa, 1989

  You can see from this picture how much I love old people!

communication

Lately my biggest failure has been in communication.

It’s a bit obvious considering I haven’t even logged into this blog since my last post in July.  When I sit down and think about writing up a story I just can’t even make myself type. Sometimes I start typing and the story gets way too long; OR I avoid the whole thing completely because I’m just too busy or too tired.  There are so many experiences and adventures I’d like to share but lately I’ve had this communication block.

It’s common knowledge that relationships suffer when communication isn’t good.  It’s the same way with God – when we don’t take the time to constantly communicate with Him, we miss out.  Just because I’m a missionary doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden easy to do all the things that people imagine missionaries do every day.  The same challenges to maintain communication with God (and people) exist in Africa as they did in everyday life back in Virginia.

I shared my dilemma with one of my missionary friends and he suggested looking back in my journal and pulling the most important and meaningful information from there.  So that’s what I’m going to share, even though the journal writing has been a challenge these days also.  I’ll admit, it makes me uneasy to put these inner thoughts out there on the web, but I hope it will be an encouragement to others and a peek into the struggles and joys of “missionary life”.

 

Here are a few thoughts and prayers from the past month:

 

25 August 2013, a prayer

A month has passed since I’ve written in this journal.  These pages should be filling up by now but most are still blank.  It’s like a glaring reminder of my struggle with lack of good communication – with YOU and with others, of my thoughts and of Your goodness.  The spirit within me is becoming faint because I’ve gotten caught up again in everyday life and people’s needs and have reverted back to relying on myself more than on You.  It’s like my constant battle is to maintain communication in relationship, especially with You.  Even when I’ve been independent, You still speak to my heart.  You protect me, You never leave me.  Thank You for Your unfailing, never ending, relentless love.  Forgive me for my lack of daily death to self so I can follow You with everything I am.  Reliance on self leaves no room for Your presence in me.  Help me release myself to You as an empty vessel again; available and willing to be filled with Your love, available and willing to pour out that love on others.

My desire is to serve You, go anywhere for You.  Examine my heart and remove anything that is holding me down.  Any fear or pride – identify it to me so my identity in You can be more complete.

I don’t want to be a fake missionary or forget how and why You brought me to Africa.  To carry out your mission, your people have to be serious.  The enemy is real, but You are greater.  All things are from You and for You.  Creation…Salvation…Revelation.

 

30 August 2013

I just had a realization that I need to stop trying to write about what I did or what adventure happened or what people need.  I should be communicating about what GOD did, what He IS doing; in the world and inside myself.  How He is working in the hearts of people.  How am I glorifying and praising God in my communication?  What can I do or say differently to bring attention to God and not to myself?

 

I recently read that HUMILITY is the test of a good missionary.  (From Live Dead Journal, 30 Day Prayer Challenge for Unreached Peoples of East Africa)

 

I’m beginning to understand:

This journey in Africa isn’t about adventure, it’s about TRUTH.

It isn’t about what people lack, it’s about how God PROVIDES.

It isn’t about the existence of darkness, it’s about the breaking through of the LIGHT.

It’s not about the abundance of suffering, it’s about the HOPE that endures.

 

 

Some verses that encouraged me:

Psalm 142:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.

 

Psalm 143:8-10

Let me morning bring word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in You.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:24

The One who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

 

It’s coming:

I’m about to turn 30 in December.  I need to seriously take better care of myself.  Why does 30 seem scary?

One of my favorite Ugandan pastors reminded me that Jesus’ ministry began when He was 30 years old and in three years He changed the world.

I can just rejoice that I am where God wants me to be and I’m not trying to figure out my purpose in life.

 

Some days I am just amazed and so thankful that I have the opportunity to live this life.  I recently ran across the website of a girl named Jamie who calls herself “the very worst missionary”.  Why didn’t I think of that?  I guess her point is that missionaries are just regular people and it’s hard to be what people imagine you would be.  She’s just real and doesn’t mind sharing her failures with the rest of us.

God uses ordinary people who are imperfect, unqualified, and even bad communicators.

 

My Kenyan friend Lindsey calls me her “weird missionary friend”.  I think she first expected me to wear a bonnet and a skirt with tennis shoes.  I don’t have to tell everyone I meet that Jesus loves them.  They should know it by the way He loves them through me.

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Lindsey,Maegan, Brian, and his siblings Divine, Jemimah, Faith, Ruth, Isaac and Shakim.

 

doing the Word

Written Thursday July 18th

I rarely cry about the things I see in this place.  Today I have cried.  Today I’m reflecting on the things that broke my heart instead of placing them in the back of my mind.  It hurts to see such innocent little lives affected by the bad decisions of their parents.   It’s also painful to see parents that really love their children and have absolutely no way to care for them in the way they want to.  Both situations are so sad.  Sometimes I have no idea what to do to help them.  Sometimes I think I feel just as helpless as the ones who need help.

Last week at our weekly childhood malnutrition program on Wanale Mountain, a mother brought her son carrying him on her back, just like the majority of the mothers here do.  This boy was different though.   He was 17 years old and he couldn’t walk because he was so frail and malnourished.  His muscles were completely wasted away and all that was left was a skeleton with skin.  I’ve never seen anything so disturbing.  The mother began to tell the story about the boy.  He was healthy until he was 15, and then something changed.  He had been in the hospital some time back but nothing had been done to identify or treat his condition.  Now the mother had waited this long to get help.

The day she brought him to us, the local community chairman (LC) showed up to explain the situation a bit better.  The village health workers had visited the home after some neighbors had reported that the boy was being mistreated.  The health workers were chased from the home by the husband who told them they had no business interfering in his family.   We learned that the husband of the mother was not the boy’s father.  He had been tying the boy up like an animal and leaving him without food.  It was like they wanted him to die.

As I heard the translation of the story from the local language to English, I felt angry and helpless at the same time.  I didn’t know what to do or say so I continued to listen.  The local authorities decided that day that they would visit the home again and threaten to involve the police if the husband refused to allow the boy to go to the hospital.  I just wanted to shout at them and tell them we need to take the boy now no matter what the parents say.  Instead I didn’t say anything because I knew I needed to respect the local authorities and their way of handling potentially dangerous situations.  All I could do in that moment was pray over and over again in my heart that the Lord would intervene and help this boy.  A couple of times I felt I should sit down next to him and just pray for him – like any good missionary would do.  For some reason I couldn’t do it.  It was like I was paralyzed by fear and helplessness.

I watched the mother lift the boy onto her back, tie a scarf around him to hold him in place, and set off up the hill with her other three children until they disappeared into the trees.  I didn’t even know the boy’s name and I didn’t know if I would ever see them again.  Throughout the week our nutritionist called the LC to follow up on the situation.  The man never answered his phone.

As we headed back up the mountain today, we just hoped that we would arrive to hear that it was OK for that boy to be transported to the hospital.  With that in my mind, I also prayed that God would give me the words to share a message with the women and children again this week.  I had in my heart to teach them about when Jesus told the disciples “do not let your hearts be troubled” and how He told the disciples He had prepared a place for them.  I wanted to tell the women and children about how Jesus said He is “the way, the truth and the life”.    Before I share a message I always pray that the Lord would speak through me to the hearts of those who are listening.

When we arrived, I walked through the door and the first thing I heard was the news that the 17 year old boy had passed away.  My heart sank.  My first feeling after the sadness was the guilt.  If only I had held that boy’s hand and prayed over him.  Maybe the outcome would have been different.  I didn’t even have the motivation anymore to share a message.  Instead I just prayed with them.  I prayed that the spirit of sickness and disease would leave that place, that they would be healed, and that God would show them the way, reveal to them the truth, and give them life in Jesus name.   After that I had no words.  I felt really defeated from the moment I walked in that door.  On top of that defeat were three more stories that broke my heart yet again.

One mother brought her baby and his belly was distended and hard.  Winnie, the nursing officer explained that this condition is brought on when kids are left on the ground.  They eat things like grass, dirt and twigs and their stomachs become bloated.  There were also about 20 little vertical scars on his belly and I wondered what they were. Then Winnie explained that the scars were from the witch doctor.  She said that the mother probably took the boy to the witch doctor who decided cutting the boy was the solution to his problem.  Instead of the mother being ashamed, she just laughed and shook her head in affirmation that the witch doctor had made the scars.

Also that day, the Auntie for Rachel came (Rachel’s story is in an earlier blog post).  She came in hopes that we had found someone who could make a long term commitment to helping them.  We had to turn them away again, as we had no way to provide the help they were looking for.

Finally, there was an 11 year old girl named Fatuma.  She had never been able to walk.  When she was five, her mother took her to a rehabilitation center for therapy in hopes she would be able to walk.  She was never able to go back for follow up after the therapy because the father refused for her to go.  Then, the father died and they had no money for transport.  So for 6 more years the girl hasn’t walked only because the family wasn’t able to transport her to the center.  The mother asked us for a wheelchair for Fatuma.  We instead suggested that we provide transport for them to go back to the rehab center.  The mother began to cry as she accepted our offer.

By the end of this day, the suffering that I have seen is too much to push to the back of my mind.  All I can do is let the tears fall and type this to you in hopes that somehow you will gain a broader view of the fallen world we live in.  I don’t share these stories to exploit the suffering of the people here.  I only share them because I want people to understand how blessed you are to have access to the simplest things like shoes, transportation, qualified medical treatment, and family members who care if you live or die.

I, along with my colleague Lindsey, have recently come under the fatherly wing of a local doctor named Peter Olupot-Olupot.  The doctor explained to us that people often ask him how he can be a believer in medicine and a believer in Jesus at the same time.  People usually think that science and faith don’t mix.  His answer is that there is no conflict between medicine and faith because the medicine only treats the symptoms and healing only comes from the Heavenly Father.  What a simple yet profound explanation.  I came here without a background in anything medical and I still become faint at the sight of blood.  Since I’ve been here though, I have been able to gain a bit of knowledge on the subject and I’m really blessed to be around such intelligent and passionate people.

Another common question I’ve heard people ask is “Where is God amidst all this suffering in the world?” and “How can God let such terrible things happen to people?”  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is in the book called Kisses From Katie.  If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it.  It’s written by a girl named Katie Davis who moved to Uganda when she was 18 and began a ministry in a small village in Jinja.  Since then, she has adopted 13 Ugandan children and her ministry is known world-wide.  I read her book a long time ago when I had no clue I would also move to Uganda.  I recently got out the book to give to a friend to read.  Before I handed it over, I turned to the back and found a short interview with Katie about her work in Uganda.  In the interview she says this: “In the book and in my blog when I talk about people giving more I am speaking mostly to people who look at the poverty and hurt in this world and ask, “Where is God?” God is right here living inside the hearts of all who believe.  So maybe the question is “Where are we?”

This is really a challenge to us all as believers in Jesus.  Jesus spent his three years of ministry healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out evil spirits.  Now that same authority He had was passed along to us who have Jesus living in our hearts.  We are called as believers to do those same things.  We don’t have to be “missionaries” living in a foreign land to claim and use that authority in our daily lives.  Furthermore, just because I’m a “missionary” living in a foreign land, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically a saint or I automatically take this authority as I am called to.  Leaving home and crossing the ocean to live in Africa is one thing.  Doing what God has called me to do HERE is another thing.  Every day is a challenge to actually DO what the Word says to do.

Last Sunday I heard a sermon based on Luke 6:46-49 about the Wise and Foolish Builder (doing the Word, not just hearing the Word).  Jesus said “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.”  This Ugandan pastor said that the Word of God only changes you when you put it into action.  If we just sit in church and listen to the Bible but don’t do what it says to do, our foundation is sinking sand.  When a storm comes everything will just fall apart.

There have been many times over the past 6 months that I’ve felt like I have failed.   There have been times when I have questioned why I am here.  There have been times I have wondered where God’s hand is when I see people suffering.  All very typical things missionaries struggle with.   I’ve also understood that we all have a choice.  We can choose to stand to the side, ignore God’s voice, and let opportunities pass us by; or we can be obedient, follow His voice, be different regardless of the cost, and DO what His Word tells us to do.   The first option eventually leads to feelings of failure and regret.  The second option always leads to a blessing.

If you want to bless someone today, pray for an opportunity to DO God’s Word.  Please also pray for me that I will have the boldness to do the same.

A song and a prayer

A perfect song and prayer for this time in my life.  Shouldn’t we all ask for this when we pray?

 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior