Welcome to the Neighborhood

Welcome to the Neighborhood

On Saturday afternoon, Mary and I arrived home to UCU campus in Mukono after spending 2 nights near the airport in Entebbe. We were greeted by smiling faces and hugs from our neighbors and friends who came by to greet us.

I have enjoyed getting to familiarize myself with the campus and had the opportunity to meet several of the faculty and staff the last few days. Warm and welcoming are the trademark characteristics of the people here in Uganda.

We also have some four-legged neighbors who like to avail themselves of the fruits in our garden and also the fruit in the nearby trees (mangos are everywhere right now). While more exotic (to me), people talk about the monkeys like we do the squirrels in Texas, a little perturbed that they are eating our fruit or in the squirrels’ case, hiding nuts in our flower pots. At a barbeque with the Entrepreneurship faculty last night, my favorite quote of the evening was “We can’t sit outside because the monkeys may throw mangos at us.” These monkey friends like to pick mangos, take a bite, and if they are not yet ripe, throw them down to the ground below.

This is a picture borrowed from Wikipedia because I haven’t gotten a close-up photo of one of these guys yet! They’re always on the move!

Yesterday, I woke up to a rooster crowing on our neighbor’s patio. A few hours later, this neighbor kindly brought over some homemade chicken in a tasty broth and matoke (a traditional Ugandan dish of steamed bananas that tastes a little like mashed potatoes) to share.

Our back patio is one of my favorite places at this new home. It’s surrounded by a garden full of herbs and fruit (thyme, basil, parsley, strawberries, gooseberries, leeks, eggplant, cucumber, green onions, and more). It will be fun to cook with such a fresh assortment just outside the kitchen. It’s also a lovely location for quiet time with the Lord and for our group prayer and bible study each morning.

Making matooke

Making matooke

Over the last couple years, my discipleship group has become accustomed to an end of semester party. When we were studying the 39 Articles, we dubbed it the 40th Article. This semester, we studied spiritual disciplines, so we called it the Discipline of Fellowship.

Brian and Saul wanted to make matooke, the staple food for the Baganda, and fish. All I had to do was provide the kitchen and tea after. Sounds like a win! I had no idea how matooke was made, and was very interested to learn.

Brian brought over the matooke, fish, and spices (vegetables to make the sauce: tomatoes, onions, and green pepper). Then he started peeling the matooke. My knives have never had such a workout. Saul came and joined in the work, and soon enough, they were done.


Brian moved to the kitchen and began to work on the fish and sauce, while Saul continued with the matooke. He had retrieved some banana leaves and banana bark, and he placed the latter in a bowl crosswise, then a few banana leaves. Then he added the matooke. I was convinced it would never fit, but he proved me wrong. He then added more leaves, then tied it all tightly with the bark.

Saul then cut the spines of the banana leaves and some of the trunk so that the matooke wouldn’t touch the bottom of the pan. He added water, and voila! A matooke steam bath was born.

Now the matooke (in the pan we borrowed from the guest house because I don’t have a pan large enough) went in the stove to steam away. It eventually received another bowl as topper to trap the steam.

Brian continued to work on the fish and sauce, kicking me out of my own kitchen when I tried to help. Twice.

When the matooke had steamed enough (they kept pressing the leaves to see how soft it was), they removed it from the sauce pan, then took other leaves and mashed (though I think the proper term is “pressed”) it, working quickly because it was hot. Then it got re-wrapped for more steaming.

When it was finished, Saul then used a plate to scoop and serve, and we all enjoyed tremendously.

And out of that huge bunch of matooke (which fed 18 people) only this remained, which I gave to Saul.

Thanks be to God!

When you say “Yes” to God…..Buckle up!

When you say “Yes” to God…..Buckle up!

When you say “Yes” to God…Buckle up!

An A&M grad and CPA, I started my career in public accounting in Fort Worth out of college. Picking a challenging major with good job security was typical of me, and I enjoyed the mix of people and numbers, as well as being back in Fort Worth close to family. About 6 and a half years later, I felt the need for a job change and to find a better work/life balance. I landed in the accounting group at a manufacturing company that allowed me a change of pace and also some new and interesting work.

While I had never thought of myself as a missionary or ever planned to go on a mission trip, my church began planning a trip to Northern Malawi, Africa in early 2017. As the announcements persisted, I felt God saying “and why not you?”. Being practical, I thought through all the reasons that it wasn’t ME that was supposed to go, but I really couldn’t think of many! It seemed actually a perfect time in my life to go as a single adult, no kids, and a job that would allow me to go for 2 weeks. So then, it was the moment of truth. “Jessica, do you trust me enough to go to Malawi to see what I will show you even if you don’t know what that is?”

Having decided to go on the trip, I felt a peace about going and as we prepared for the trip, repeatedly saw confirmations that I had made the right decision to take the leap! Our 2 weeks in Malawi were wonderful and also filled with a whole mixture of emotions – joy, anxiety, excitement, frustration, exhaustion, peace, fellowship, laughter and others! On our return, I couldn’t tell immediately how the trip had changed me. Though I had had an amazing life experience and saw God in new ways, I came back still feeling like this time in my life of freedom to GO surely had a purpose beyond my “safe” life plan.

Through months of prayer, conversations with friends and new contacts, I cast a wide net and asked God to show me the next steps, whatever they would be.  In those months, my type A, planner, goal-setter self was really challenged to let go of the control that I naturally want but don’t have! Finally, following advice from a friend to “rest in the uncertainty”, I threw in the towel and said “Ok, God, I don’t need to know. I’ll wait on you.”

Just two weeks later, I learned about this opportunity in Uganda to serve with SAMS. New to missions, I was surprised to find an opportunity as a missionary that would use my business skills and background! I had been interested in working with college students, was feeling a call to be more involved in ministry in some way, have always had an interest in starting a small business coming from a family of entrepreneurs, and had been interested in exploring a passion for teaching. Understanding that I could never have dreamed this up on my own, I came to see God’s hand all over it and heard again in my heart the question, “Will you trust me enough to GO?”

At Uganda Christian University, I will be serving with SAMS missionary Mary Chowenhill who teaches economics and practical entrepreneurship at UCU. I’ll be working with students in the entrepreneurship degree program to further develop their small business plans and assisting the other Entrepreneurship faculty, as needed. With one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world, creating jobs through entrepreneurship in Uganda could hopefully lead to a reduction in poverty and empower young people to use their talents and resources to improve the future for themselves and their communities.

In the months of preparation to go, God has continued to “make the way” at every turn, reaffirming often that He is leading. Looking back at this journey so far, I’ve seen the Lord’s faithfulness and hold on to the certainty that He is leading me step by step as I go to Uganda in early May!

“When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.

…The Lord will fulfill his purpose in me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.” Psalm 138:3,8

Thank you for reading and following my ministry!

Digressions and names

Digressions and names

I love the digressions our class discussions can take. While discussing the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-27 with my Masters of Divinity students, we were discussing what was meant in Leviticus 18:8, and how it differs from Leviticus 18:7.  This led to a small discussion on various marriage customs in Uganda, particularly with regard to giving another girl in the marriage to help at home.

How “help” is defined in this situation is still a bit fuzzy to me, as the discussion devolved a wee bit as students from different tribes took exception to how others were defining it. One student raised his voice, and began, “Now, Reverend, I am a Muganda, and we – ” to which I replied, “I am also a Muganda, though adopted.”

Apparently this was enough to derail the discussion, because someone asked what my Luganda name is. I have two: I was given Nakalema years ago, and last semester, a student gave me Nasuuna. So I explained this. The class was quiet as they digested this, and I leaned over to a Rwandan student who was sitting in the front row and whispered, “This means that I’m a princess.” He looked at me with some skepticism.

However, this was confirmed when one of the Baganda said, “Those are royal names.” Indeed they are; names must be appropriate for the clan to which you belong. And since I belong to one of the royal clans (Lion), I can have a royal name. Amen.

I explained that I’ve been given names from several areas in East Africa, which I wear as badges of honor. From the Luo in Kenya, I am Achieng (born at midday). One of the Kenyan students in class was delighted to hear this, and said he will call me this from now on. The Bunyoro give pet names, and one of our professors named me Abwooli (clean, or cat), and one of the Munyoro students has already adopted it. From the Muyankole, I am Mbabazi (Grace).

And all this from a discussion of the Holiness Code.

Missing Meri

Missing Meri

On April 4, my sweet Meri died. I started this post a couple weeks ago, but it’s been hard to write; I think that writing it for the interwebs makes it a bit too real.

I am struggling with a bit guilt over this; she wanted breakfast at 2:00 am, and since there is no universe in which that was going to happen, I put her outside. She never came back. I found her nearby while on my way to chapel that morning, and spent the service trying to alternately hold back and wipe away tears. The current theory is that she found poison that had been put out for the feral dogs, and I can’t help but wonder whether if I’d fed her this could have been averted.

The Dennisons, from whom I inherited Meri, have been incredibly gracious and have absolved me of any guilt. They pointed out that Meri had likely far exceeded her nine lives even before she came to stay with me.  Let’s remember that this is the kitty who would play with monkeys. Sigh.

I am missing my Guardian of the Galaxy (or at least the Honors College). I miss seeing her sitting on the final set of steps as I climb to my flat. I miss seeing her on the verandah. I miss hearing the girls next door greet her as they come and go. I miss having someone to talk to, even if she woke me at horrific hours.

Ugandans tend to be very pragmatic about death, especially about animals, as they tend to be more house workers rather than pets. But a few students have by and asked have where Meri was, and when I told them she was with Jesus, they were very sad. Their sympathy and empathy touched me deeply.

Meri was therapy for me when the Dennisons left; not only did I have a small reminder of them, having someone to talk to and care for gave me something to focus on. Even though I could never teach her to tell time, she was very bright: I’d tell her “let’s go,” or “time for chapel,” or “time for lectures,” and she’d head for the door. Well, unless she was feeling teenager-ish, and then she’d whine and we’d fight to get out the door.

She was a gift, and I’m grateful for the two years I had with her.