Well, friends, we have had a week. A month. Gracious, the last 12 months have felt to me like 27 years.
A brief synopsis:
Three years ago, the landlord of the home we lived in for 14 years, began to harass us. There were letters, criticizing rants, and destruction of property (his actions not ours) to follow. The message? He wanted us out of his home. This felt awful. Because that house felt like our home and because we thought that man was our friend.
We had trouble finding a place to move to. We are family of 6 people. Our ‘home’ in Uganda also houses our schoolroom and supplies (for four different grade levels at any given time), two minister’s offices, one theological library, one children’s library, and secure storage for a youth camp, a fire brigade, construction supplies, boy scout troop and church ministry (think of your church facility—the sound equipment, the chairs, the pulpit, the communion supplies, every workroom with supplies for teaching classes, copiers, computers etc. These must be stored in our home or they will be stolen.)
All of those things had to find a safe place to land and our furlough (2017) was rapidly approaching.
At the very last minute, we located a very small place with a secure gate and wall. The price was affordable and the landlord was happy to have us. We moved in 5 days. There was enough space to store most of our valuables, but there was not enough space to unpack. We locked doors, hired security and scooted off for our furlough.
While we were in the States, we received word that thieves had broken in. Upon our return to Uganda, in Oct 2017, we worked to re-secure the home, and set up house in a minute space full of boxes. We sorted and cleared and creatively organized. And then we commenced with all the living.
A mere few days in, the landlord began to harass. Every time he arrived to collect rent he would ask us to give him something—like a car, a massive loan, or one of our children. He fought with us over electricity and bananas and as we approached one year of rental he gleefully announced that he was raising our rent. Jeff was concerned about the barrage of demands so early into a rental relationship, so he began to search for a safer and larger space for our family. He was taken to a house that was tucked away down a long muddy road in a village near to many of our church community. Negotiations commenced.
The landlord was thrilled to have us. She promised repairs on the home and a final rental price was agreed upon.
A second move within the space of one year was imminent.
This time we did not have the looming deadline of furlough so the move stretched out over several weeks. Jeff drove our entire household and ministry supplies again over terrible roads with a land cruiser and a 8 foot trailer. It took forever, but we were thankful for the space and hopeful for the peace that the larger home might afford us.
We received our first water bill just days after we arrived in the home. The bill was 0 shillings. This indicated to us that the water had been left off while no one occupied the home. I had noticed this when we toured the home early on and questioned the landlord. I was assured that the water was fine, just left off while the home sat empty.
Just three weeks after our move, we received our second water bill and it was for very, very many shillings. We immediately went outside to speak to the water people. A normal water bill for a family of 6 is @ $20 a month and the bill just delivered to us was right around $400 (this is unpotable water FYI). The water company representatives were confused too. The bill was ridiculously high. We requested a meter check as we surmised that the meter must be broken.
In the weeks to follow, we were openly harassed by a manager of the water company who refused to replace the meter. Arriving in the early morning at our home every two to three days, she threatened many things unless we paid the astronomical bill. Jeff drove plumbers from the water company (they sent 3 delegations of plumbers) and he hired our own plumbers. In the end, Jeff was the only one to move toward any reasonable explanation for the astronomical bill. By inserting gate valves at various points, Jeff eliminated areas of problem, proving that there was no leak in the plumbing lines we have access too.
In the end, Jeff and every plumber who has investigated assumes there must be pipes cemented into the foundation of the home that have a problem. Which is very bad for the property, but beyond our jurisdiction for repair. We cannot break apart the foundation without the land lord’s approval.
In the meantime, our family was hauling water from another source in jerry cans. This is as delightful as it sounds.
We worked to secure a water supply and gain some peace. Taking money from vacation savings, we bought giant tanks and pipes and began to harvest rainwater. This set up process took over two weeks, cost us many dollars, but did secure a safe water supply for our family.
The day after the installation of the water system was completed and the water company had been informed of the change there was another knock at the gate. There were men who claimed to be lawyers serving us with papers from our landlord who was pursuing litigation for “non-payment of rent.” We have paid one year in advance and yes, we have a receipt.
We contacted the landlord who (just a few months in to our rental agreement) now spoke to us in aggressive, belligerent, accusatory language. She insisted that we owed her money, she denied every agreement, and she demanded that we pay the astronomical water bill. We began to negotiate sending a mediator on our behalf to speak with the landlord in person, speaking to lawyers and judges and praying for peace and help. We would receive a second eviction letter just a few weeks later, followed by a barrage of accusation and demands.
Growing up, I learned from good hard-working people that folks who do their jobs and love their families and serve God faithfully and PAY THEIR BILLS will be afforded some peace because they are moving ahead in responsible, honest ways. The last years have pummeled me in the space of this expectation. At every turn, our bills have been paid, we have worked above and beyond to settle issues that are not ours technically and we have gone without basic supplies like running water and electricity. And yet, still, we are the ones on the receiving end of a shouted harangue.
I wish I could tell you that I have handled all this with spiritual maturity. But the truth is, all of this has put me in the bed. Fetal position. Tears. From weakness, we struggle ahead for a solution only to have our knees knocked out from under us again.
We would love to build our own home on our own property, but for every step forward on that front we meet ten more (costly) steps that must be completed first. Immigration requirements, title deeds and property laws are complicated matters, all of which we are steadfastly willing to obediently navigate, but the added pressure of accusation from folks we have already paid has grown very cacophonous.
Friends, we are tired.
The ugly misuse of power sometimes thunders like a tsunami.
This is the point in the blog post where I would normally shift to a scripture. A verse. Some hope that is anchoring me.
But this year, this time, this very anticipated shift to hope causes me to sigh deeply.
I need a new way to present this.
Because for the last year, this stuff, this temporal, antagonistic, burdensome, momentary trouble has pummeled me.
I’ve quit. I’ve ranted. I’ve despaired. I’ve agonized.
Land sakes, how I have cried.
Sad tears. Angry tears. Whole body shaking sobs.
And in the midst of the breakdown.
Not after. Not in the wake of. Not following. And God bless us all, not despite of…
But in the exact moment when I crater…
He waits. He sees. He loves.
Oh friends, I am so counting on this.
I find in seasons like this one that my ‘if you’ theology begins to sputter and spew.
God will grace you, if you…
God will save you, if you…
God will comfort you, if you…
In the midst of my sprawling stumbles, this if you theology is required to pause and consider.
The conditional trill of my own ever-committed striving pulsates strident, draining and severe.
God, as Creator and Provider, has never done one single thing contingent on my goodness.
He acts because of His own.
He truly is, Love.
This I know.
I arrived on the mission field to watch Him solve all the stuff.
And I simply wanted to be His most worthy soldier leading portions of the ‘fix it’ charge.
I have discovered the Truth of His Ever-Present Help, right in the midst of it all.
He is so capable of fixing, but never to the detriment of being:
Here it is.
Bathed in the ugly, malfunctioning, lumpy mess of reality that life sometimes provides in spades—
His Word of truth echoes and carries:
I will boast
all the more gladly
about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power
2 Cor 12:9b
To boast of my weaknesses?
What does that look like over coffee? Around the dinner table? In my social media presence?
Uncomfortable. Awkward. Unhealthy? Ego-centric?
There is a reason for us to be honest.
The exact same power that made blind eyes see
and fevers flee
and little girls wake up from death beds
and whipping storm waves still
and buried men walk out of the grave
and bleeding stop
and water flow as wine
and a child’s lunch fill over 5000 hungry stomachs
A power so great that the earth could not hold the books written that would tell of it all.
A cosmic, irrevocable, reality shaking might.
Refresh. Renew. Heal. Nurture. Breathe.
Is this what power does?
Most often, power dictates. Controls. Influences. Commands.
Perhaps, our whole world needs this most of all.
This place where power rests.
Where is your boasting?
That thing you agonize over just now.
Or broken dream.
Or lost love.
Or messed up circumstance.
Or lousy awkwardness.
Or atrocious calamity.
Whatever, most currently, shouts angrily at your gate.
Courage to do just this…
To acknowledge the weakness with joy because He is there too.
And instead of a clamoring out and away, from all that is disagreeable in me
We have a Father who:
In the exact place of my frailty
by His power
Father, hear our every prayer.
Father, thank you.
Stumbling is so discomforting.
Struggle seems safest tucked quietly away.
Hiding can feel so secure.
But you are Light.
And that Light is life.
Light shines to clarity.
Light is meant to free us.
Today, for this moment, I ask for courage to consider the Light.
Especially in regard to weakness.
I seem to have a whole list of them.
I ask to move WITH you in the space of these struggles.
To name each weakness, with open hands to you, asking for your power
To rest just exactly here.
Weakness is tender.
I pray for your light to ease and to heal and to overcome and to help.
I pray for your light to shine.
For Your Presence to radiate around us.
And for our eyes to See.
We name and lift our weakness to you, trusting that here
Where need and nurture illuminate the truth,
Here your power rests.
Because of Jesus and in His Name,
Let it be so.