Several titles for this post have been swimming around in my head including “Why We Are Leaving the Perfect Life” and “How We Have Proven to the World that We Are Crazy.” The crux of the matter, though, is that I want to share with you, dear people near and far, about our family’s decision to uproot ourselves from this lovely plot of land in central Kentucky and replant in a city of 1.6 million souls–Kampala, Uganda. The simple answer as to why we would do this is that “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (1 Corinthians 5:14-15). For the longer answer, keep reading :).
From the beginning of our marriage, Greg and I shared an earnest desire to make disciples and to use our lives to serve those in need. The calls of both Matthew 28:18-20 and 25:31-46 have rung in our ears through the years. We fell in love sharing our faith together on the campus of the University of Virginia and delivering bags of food to families in need through the Greater Charlottesville Church of Christ’s “I Was Hungry” program. As we have built our life together over the past 15 years (adding four participants to the project along the way), we have striven to make disciples and serve our neighbors wherever we have been (Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Louisville, Campbellsburg, LaGrange). Often we have talked and dreamed of work overseas, but no clear “open door” or “calling” ever presented itself. In our musings, I always assumed Central or South America because of the Spanish connection. Since Greg changed careers eight years ago, we assumed that we would go after he retired (12 years from now). Nowhere did East Africa appear, nor the year 2016.
In 2013 the Lord opened a window in our awareness. Dear friends of ours became deeply burdened for the orphan crisis in Africa and specifically for the more than 10,000 children living on the streets of Uganda’s cities. I remember praying the New Year in with these friends, listening to their plans, and commenting that I didn’t think we’d ever go to Africa. A few months later, we sent them off with their third child in the womb, passion for the kingdom of God in their eyes and children hungry in body and spirit on their hearts. You can read more of their story at http://the2819call.blogspot.com/. As we have prayed for our friends and for the people whose stories they have shared with us over the last year and a half, a new love has grown in our hearts.
Over the same period of time, three great themes have been constantly and desperately present in our family prayers: the advance of the kingdom of God, personal disciple-making, and how best to use the resources God has given us to meet needs (especially those of vulnerable children). A few months ago we saw these three prayers converge in an opportunity. The friends that we had been praying for found themselves at a cross-roads. They had moved from rural Kenya to Kampala for a specific work providing spiritual leadership and parental love in a home for street children. Sadly, due to corruption within the existing organization, that opportunity became an impossibility. They were faced with a choice: return to the U.S., despite a strong sense of having been called to Uganda, or begin a new work. After receiving godly counsel, they concluded that a new work would only be profitable if God provided more workers–a team that would spiritually support and disciple on another.
As these events were taking place in East Africa, God was enacting a parallel drama in the heart of our family. Greg and I were increasingly uncomfortable being “rich Christians in an age of hunger” (to borrow a phrase from Ron Sider). The many possessions which had once seemed a blessing weighed heavily upon us. We transitioned from asking, “Is it o.k. for us to have this much?” to, “How much could we do without?” “What would a life look like that seriously considered the poverty that surrounds us?” Our older children began to express concern about having too much material blessing. We did not have an answer, but we prayed.
One morning we got a message from our friends in Uganda. Into the grayness of disappointment and confusion about the turn of events in Kampala, a light of hope had dawned. A group of Christians in Boston, MA had visited Kenya and Uganda and a plan was unfolding to gather a team to plant a church in Kampala. Since one family was already on the ground, only two or three more families would be needed. The Followers of the Way in Boston offered support and extended fellowship.
Greg was at the fire-house that morning, so I heard his response at the same time as our friends in Africa did (the wonders of modern technology)–“I feel like in your words I have been called to give up everything.” At last the question was real. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus said, “but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). Our friends had been in East Africa long enough to know that the harvest is plentiful for the kingdom of God. We could see for ourselves that opportunities to serve Jesus by serving the least of these (Matthew 25:36-41) abounded. Were we willing to be workers sent out into this harvest field?
As a family, we began to count the cost. Our mothers and siblings topped the list. We determined that our plan must include time “back home” each year to reconnect with our families. And, of course, we would welcome them anytime they wanted to visit us. It felt like a miracle to me when I carefully presented the plan to my mom, and she said, “O.k. Can I join you?” Absolutely. Amen! For Greg, the job that he had loved would be a great cost, but as he examined his heart, he was willing. My mountain was leaving this beautiful homestead for a densely populated city–a city with very little plant life, but crammed with cars, buildings and people. People. People. Precious souls created by God. People for whom Jesus came. People for whom Jesus died. People waiting to hear the gospel of the kingdom. If I am honest with myself, the quiet rural life that has provided such restoration at a needed time for our family does not offer many opportunities to interact with people. I knew what I would choose. Comfort and financial security were small costs compared to the first three. We had already surrendered.
So, after connecting with our friends, back in the U.S. on a brief sabbatical, with the church in Boston and with another family of mutual friends who is seriously considering this call, the ball is in motion. We Stierles are rejoicing in the freedom to divest ourselves of earthly possessions for the sake of the kingdom and preparing to move to Uganda. We do not know whether this will be a short or long-term move. We will continue to prayerfully follow the Lord’s leading.
And what will we do when we get to Kampala? Obviously much of that we will not know until we actually get there. Our primary goal will be to make disciples. There is already medical work and other cooperative outreach being done in one of the cities largest slums. That will continue, Lord willing. There are also plans under way to start a non-profit business that will provide an avenue of connection with the community as well as to develop a program mentoring impoverished men and women in starting small businesses. Greg’s business and technical education seem well-suited to these ventures, and, of course, most of my energy will continue to be poured into my roll as wife and mother. The work that we are setting out to do far exceeds our abilities, our gifts, even our imaginations, but that’s o.k., because it is not our work. We hope only to be tools in the hands of Him whose abilities and imagination are limitless. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).