Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"I bid you stand!"

Over the last few months, I’ve watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (extended edition!) with some of my friends on our team here.  In the last movie, Return of the King, I found tears in my eyes…during the battle scenes!  Not your typical teary-eyed moment, right?  But I’ve noted that both in this and some other movies with epic clashes of good and evil, something deep in my soul is stirred up.  Often it leaves me teary as I watch the battle unfold. 

Why is this? Why am I crying when Mordor comes to battle the realm of man, dwarf, elf, hobbits, and all things not evil? Or when Peter and Lucy and Susan prepare to face the White Witch’s evil forces, why am I on the edge of my seat every time, inspired, emotional? It’s just a movie right?  Maybe yes.  But, I think it’s also a moving depiction of the reality of life as a believer.  I think there’s something in all of us, Christ-follower or not, that stirs up to fight for those we love and for what we hold dear.  Some place in each of us longs for this epic life, be it battle, adventure, discovery, or some other epic tale, our hearts stir up as we read and watch mighty stories unfold. 

As I watched the battle for Middle Earth unfold onscreen, I found myself cheering for the men and the hobbits, the side of the good guys, urging them on.  My heart was reminded of truth: though evil may seem to prevail, may seem impossible to surmount and certain to defeat us, it will flee and run in the face of good men who stand and fight for a cause beyond themselves. It’s not about self or survival in this moment, it’s about laying down your own life for the sake of many others and for the battle against evil.  It’s about fighting for the preservation of the kingdom and of lives against the darkness that wants to destroy all light.  It’s about the ultimate story of good vs. evil.

Ultimately, all evil will be destroyed.  King Jesus has already conquered sin and death, yet for a season he allows the “prince of the air” to have some leeway in this world…because He knows it will ultimately bring MORE glory.  Sometimes – many times – it’s hard to see and understand that in the midst of battling the darkness.  It’s not often easy to see how He will turn our weeping and mourning into dancing and singing.  But I know He will, for He is faithful and good, true to His word and His people.  And you know what else? We know the end of the story.  It’s right there in Revelation, and it’s hinted at all over the place throughout the Bible. The King will return and he WILL have the victory.  He is raising up His people now and He will be faithful to His own and lead them on to victory and eternity. 

So for now, we’re called to fight the good fight.  To arm ourselves with the whole armor of God and not back down. It is worth it. Every bit of the battle is worth it. Even unto death.  For, as Gandalf says to one of the hobbits, “the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it….White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”  There’s more than what we see friends. And even should we battle unto death (for we all will one day), it is not the end.  There’s so much more beyond the shores. 

In the midst of a heavy season, where we are seeing some major spiritual warfare here in this community, this movie and these truths bring great comfort to me.  These pictures of spiritual reality seem even more poignant. Some days the darkness is almost tangible here.  It presses hard against the light that Christ is growing.  My heart and mind weigh heavy some days and weeks from this.  We have been doing battle, and it is continuing. Thankfully, the Lord has given me these beautiful depictions of truth recently.  He’s reminded me to hold on, to stand firm, and to fight.  For, oh, dear ones, it is worth it.  Through the battle, the respite, and every place between here and eternity’s shore, holding onto and fighting for the Word of Life is worthy of my everything.

The cry of Aragorn, the returning king, in the face of the last battle, one that seems sure to be an incredible loss, keeps bringing me great comfort:
Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand!

From this warrior, may each of you be strengthened and encouraged as you stand to fight, whatever your battle is. Maybe go watch one of these epics and let the beautiful, poignant truth speak deeply.  What we see here and now is not the end.  There is indeed an epic battle being waged, and I am blown away that I am on the side of the Victorious One, by His grace alone.  The battle is real, and it may wear you out, but you will not be defeated friends, if you are following the One who leads us. Carry on.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  – Ephesians 6:10-18

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nationals, tears, and fullness of life

I just arrived home to Bundibugyo from Football Nationals - what an adventure!  We traveled from Bundi to Fort Portal on Friday evening, 17 girls + 2 coaches + 1 teacher + 1 conductor + 1 driver all packed in with our luggage to a mini-bus (think 15 passenger van with a tiny bit more room).  We slept at a hostel that evening and tried to get the girls to bed early before our 3 AM wake-up call!  Then we hustled them out of bed and out to the driveway to wait for our bus…which didn’t arrive until 5 AM (we took some naps in the waiting time)!  We then boarded the bus with another girls’ team from our region, Kibiito, and hit the road. 

And we drove. And drove. And drove. It took about 12 hours to reach Lira from Fort Portal, and it was a day of my girls seeing a whole new world!  Most of our CSB students have not traveled beyond Fort Portal, so to see the country from Fort Portal to Kampala to the north was totally new to them.  We had a teacher from the other school who acted as unofficial tour guide, pointing out national reserves, a hydroelectric dam in the works, rice fields, new highways under construction, and every district we traveled through (think counties…there were a lot!).  The most exciting sight was the Nile River, specifically Karuma Falls which is in Northern Uganda.  I wish I had a picture of the open-mouthed, wide-eyed gazes of my girls taking that in!!!  It was amazing for me to watch them seeing that.  They also LOVED seeing women riding {and rocking} bicycles with babies tied on their backs (little to no women ride bikes in Bundi) and women driving motorcycles (NO woman, probably ever, has driven a motorcycle in Bundi).  Eye-opening for my team. Like whoa.

Once we reached Lira we had a long registration process, as almost ALL national ball sports tournaments were converging at this same school for the same time!  Teams from all over the country were in Lira to play tennis, field hockey, rugby, table tennis, girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball, and girls’ football.  Boys’ football was a couple hours down the road (which I found out in person, another story for another time).  It was incredibly inspiring to me to see all these Ugandan athletes, their coaches, and their spirit.  There were girls with cheers and songs and dances, warm-ups with rhythm and style, and taller men than I’ve seen in a long time (the people of Bundibugyo are all about my height, meaning short!). I enjoyed watching basketball when we had off time and my girls loved watching rugby, a sport they have never seen before.

Once registered, we got our room and got settled…along with all our neighbors! We were in dorms that had no doors between the rooms, just open entryways, so we had 2 rooms of 20+ girls on each side of our room of 20 women…aka it was an EPIC sleepover all.week.long.  We ate rice and beans to last us quite awhile, took bucket baths under the stars every evening, and all got to be together tons.  We had dance parties with friends and neighbors, doing traditional Ugandan dances (which they tried to teach me!) and doing some modern dance too.  What girl sleepover is complete without a dance party?  Thanks to my parents’ generosity, we had an ice cream party one night too…definitely some of the girls highlight, as they asked me every day after if we could have ice cream again!

Oh, and we also played some football!  My girls played their hearts out and left much of themselves on the fields of Lira.  We drew (tied) four matches, every single one hard-fought by every girl on the field.  We lost two games, also hard-fought.  We even held our hardest match to only 3-0, and our opponents were warning other teams about us, “Watch out for that team from Bundibugyo, they’re tough,” and “They’re so fast.”  For some reason, at this tournament we struggled to put many goals in.  We played faster, bigger, stronger teams than we ever see on the Western side of the nation.  And yet my girls stuck it out.  They fought hard.  Our goalie played with an injury and much pain because she knew it was big time.  I heard things like, “Whatever happens, we know God knows and has a purpose” and “We came as family and leave as family” come out of my girls mouths and I could not be prouder of them. 

We represented our district well, with many people asking, “Where is your school? Bundi-what-io?”, and other coaches recognizing us for training our students well, and utilizing the talent we have—many teams recruit heavily and only have students for athletics, sometimes forfeiting class time for training time.  As our Headmaster reminded the boys and girls, our goal is to train them academically and spiritually, then athletically. We play and live with integrity, and our focus is on them and their future and their knowing Jesus and walking with character—not succeeding in a sport versus true life success. 

We had some high emotions (what teen girls don’t?) and I had some sweet conversation opportunities about how we choose to love and engage even when we’re frustrated and upset.  How do we communicate truth but not be hurtful and mean?  Who is it okay to express frustration to and when do we apologize for blowing up at others?  Good for my girls and good for my own heart too.  There was so much laughter.  And there were tears and brooding after losses and after no wins at the end…and I saw myself in these young women, my own tears at the end of CPA soccer seasons, my own passion that lays everything on the line and wants the victory, my own desire to see what I expect and think of as good prevail rather than a trust that all is good, even if it looks differently than my own expectations or plans.

One of the most beautiful moments was before our third match.  A couple of our OG’s (OG=Old Girl=alumna of CSB) who played football a few years ago at CSB are in nursing school in Lira.  They came to as many of our matches as they could.  Before the third match, they joined us to pray with the team before we started, a tradition before every game.  Our OG prayed for us, and she prayed in Lubwisi—the local language of Bundibugyo, my girls’ heart language, a language no one else outside our small district has any idea how to speak or understand.  And here we were on a soccer field in Northern Uganda, with our alumnae, our coaches, and our team, being prayed over and blessed in our heart language, speaking to the God of the universe who is the same from corner to corner of this globe, the God who these OG’s know and follow as their Lord, the God my students are learning about, the One who is my purpose for being here in Bundi, for being there in Lira, the motivation of my heart and the Savior I love.  The same God from America to Bundibugyo to Lira to China to Timbuktu and back.  Major tears on the football field y’all.  A beautiful, rich gift of Jesus, amongst many others from this tournament. 

The laughter, tears, bucket baths, dance parties, wonderful conversations, rice and beans forever, and so much more made this an experience I’ll never forget and I think my girls won’t either.  My life is so full—of Jesus, of moments of such dependence on Him, of fun and friends, of learning, of need for grace and receiving of it, of adventure, of goodness.  I am feeling richly blessed…and very thankful for a place to come home and find rest after all this fun!

For those of you who supported our team this season—THANK YOU!  We could not have done it without you.  From socks to cleats, uniforms to bags, shin guards to water, you have been a part of this season.  You have helped our team get all the way to Nationals and be fully equipped to do so!  We even had another team borrowing our shin guards and cleats when we weren’t playing (a totally African thing to share whatever resources you have with friends who are without, even if it means you then go without)!  You helped outfit my girls, protect them, give them balls to practice and play with (every game the other teams wanted to use our nice footballs given by Cilla Crane!), and support them in prayer and action.  Your giving to boots and jerseys and balls spoke LOVE and DIGNITY and WORTH to my girls.  Even when we got to Nationals and teams with many more resources had all kinds of things we did not, these girls held their heads high.  They took it all in, and they walked with grace and confidence.  And they’ve come home and continue to walk that way.  In a community which sees women as objects and less than, these 17 women carry themselves differently than most.  They know their worth. They know they are loved. They know they are supported. You may never meet them, but know that our entire team knows of you and says thank you for all you have done.  And I say thank you for teaching these women about love and giving generously in a way I never could.  Thank you for your partnership and love for me, and for believing in me to love these precious women towards the King.  Keep praying for my relationship with each of them as we move into post-season and more normal school life.  I look forward to how He will use this sport to continue to build His Kingdom here. 

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; 
I have come that they may have life and have it to the FULL.” 

– John 10:10

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's Football time in Bundibugyo!

One of the ministries I have the joy of being a part of here is the Girls’ Football (Soccer) Team at Christ School.  We have a stellar team, who’s made it to Nationals for a number of years and who are so full of personality.  Spending my afternoons on the pitch (field) with them is always fun and usually exhausting (my energy and athleticism are definitely not that of a 16 year olds anymore!).  I’ve got some nice bruises and some stronger legs thanks to our training. 

Some of the girls have played on the team for years, while for others it is their first season on an organized soccer team.  They play hard and are excited to be there…except maybe for conditioning work! It’s a whole lot of fun, learning, laughter, and joy. 

For those who know me, you know sports have been a huge part of my life.  I grew up swimming year-round for 12 years and competed locally, regionally, and at State. When I started high school at CPA, I was able to join the Womens’ Soccer Team and loved it!  Despite being late to join the beautiful game of soccer, it is a sport I am passionate about.   I played other various sports for random seasons growing up, and I always love watching some football with my Daddy!  Sports had a large hand in making me the person I am today.  They taught me discipline, passion for something greater than myself, dedication, perseverance, hard work, and joy in participating in a fully present way.  I have lifelong friends and role models thanks to sports teams I have been a part of.  I think sports are one of THE BEST ways to grow a child and invest in them. 

And y’all, the playing changes these women. It gives them self-confidence and camaraderie in a community where they are not respected highly or seen as valuable.  In the district that ranks highest in teen pregnancies in the NATION, this game changes them.  Their effort and success on the field is something that helps them hold their head high.  It gives them something to care about beyond just the role their community assigns them.  People notice that they rock the field and they cheer them on and believe in them.  You know what that does for a young woman who’s never been believed in and cheered for?  Young girls want to be like these players, they look up to them.  Soccer is changing lives in this corner of the world.

But the reality here though is that it’s hard to get our team to the field.  Our existing funding is about a tenth of what we need for the year of soccer.  Somehow, every year, the Lord helps us make it work.  Sometimes the girls play games barefoot, but still they play.  We almost always practice barefoot, with the 6-7.5 pairs of cleats floating around (and lots of feet getting stomped who don’t have shoes).  As the Headmaster told me, “Even when we manage to get cleats by game time, sometimes they remove them during the game because they are too heavy since they’ve not practiced in them.”   

CSB Girls’ Football Stats
20 Girls on the team
4 Coaches
2 Soccer Balls
7.5 Pairs of cleats (boots)
0 shin guards
2 pairs of soccer socks
2 sets of uniforms: 1 from another school, 1 from the netball team
0 Goalie gloves
0 Practice jerseys/pennies/etc.

 Our team fights hard, they play hard, and they succeed.  We have won the district for years, continued to Regions, and often make it to Nationals.  We are hoping for that again this year.  In our District, it’s not so bad when we don’t have enough cleats to go around.  We can make it work.  But as we get out of the District, we face teams who are well equipped, strong, and competitive.  When our team hasn’t practiced well-equipped, they struggle.  They do battle and often win games at Regionals, but beyond that it is even more of a challenge. 

Might be one of my favorites...for weeks, she's played with just one cleat!

In Uganda, Bundibugyo is one of the poorest of the poor areas, and others outside of Bundi know this.  In National competition, we do not receive much respect. We are seen as backwards in many ways.  And when we have falling apart or very limited equipment, this idea is reinforced. 

Would you consider loving this team with me and encouraging their hearts through a pair of cleats or socks?  To have the things they need to play the game helps them believe in the immense dignity He has given.  My hope is that, regardless of equipment or gear, we walk into every game with heads held high. My hope is that these 20 young women will know they are valued, esteemed, and magnificent because of their Creator.  But you know what never hurts?  Looking good! Dress like you want to feel right?  Will you help me help these women dress and play as the amazing athletes and young ladies they are?  It takes as little as $5…
1 Pair of cleats: $25
1 Pair of socks: $5
1 Set Shin guards: $10
1 Soccer Ball: $18
1 Uniform: $8
Uniforms for the whole team: $160
Goalie gloves: $48 (all imported, so prices get crazy!)
Tournament expenses: Various, ask me if interested in giving specifically toward these

If you want to love the young women of Bundibugyo, consider giving toward our football team.  It will make a difference in the lives of each of these 20 women, I guarantee it!  You can give online here.  ****PLEASE note in the giving form that it is for CSB Girls' Football/Soccer, as this helps us get it designated correctly.****  You can also give via mail, email me for info on that: sarahkcrane {at} gmail {dot} com.  Help us play and struggle together for the greatness He has before us!

Post-practice team shot

"Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle." 
~ Wilma Rudolph

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Making Hard, Beautiful Choices

As I type the list of our candidates, I am absolutely overwhelmed, to the point of tears and prayer. How am I a part of deciding futures for these students?  Of choosing the next ten for our Christ School Orphan and Vulnerable Children Scholarship Program? 

For 10 of them, their lives are about to change.  They will be welcomed, cared for, supported, taught about Jesus, given rich knowledge and life in this place. 

For the other 22 candidates who we didn’t select to join the OVC Program, their dreams may be shattered.  We get to say, “Welcome to Christ School Bundibugyo!” to ten.  Yet there are so many more who are not on that list.  They may never finish beyond a P7 education (about 6th/7th grade education). Their dreams may be crushed as I type each letter of this list of ten names.  It’s heavy y’all. 

This is not an easy process. Some of the decisions were very clear cut, and others our committee wrestled with intensely.  From 32 applications and interviews, to village visits and investigations of the top 15, to a list of ten names.  I am so thrilled to welcome those ten. I mean, I can’t stop smiling when I think of each of them and can now pray for them by name, not just as numbers we’re looking for.  There are names and faces for each one, and stories He is weaving and writing that we at CSB get to be a part of.  I wish I could tell you every one of their stories, or at least the small snippets I know. These children have seen so much, walked hard roads, and are still dreaming big for their families and themselves. They are resilient and strong and beautiful. They inspire me.  

But just as true as that is for these 10, there are names and faces and stories for the 22 who aren’t joining the program.  There are children we interviewed who I fall asleep praying for and who are on my heart throughout the day.  What will their stories now hold?  I am trusting He will provide and He is at work, but oh how I wonder and my doubtful heart runs to worry.  I’ve sat in some of their homes, I’ve heard their stories, and now that I know, I am responsible. 

What does it look like to walk with these ten and trust the other 22 to Him?  I’m not really sure.  But I welcome prayers as I sort that out.  I know these 10 and the other 50+ already in our program here are the ones I am called to love and invest in here and now.  I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I am thrilled and nervous and excited to the depths of my being about this year! But today my heart is burdened for the others as well. 

Is this a taste of how the Lord feels when He writes names in the Book of Life? How he so desperately longs for all to come in, to partake, to be a part? I’m not sure. But its heavy and beautiful, its exciting and heartbreaking all at the same time. 

Who am I to be a part of this crazy, messy, wonderful, life-changing process?  Completely, absolutely humbled and on my knees, both for the students who will come and be a part of this and those who will not.  What I do know is that I am only a part of this process because He chose me, He loved me first and then sent me to use my gifts, my skills, and His love to enter in here.   Only because of Him am I a part, and only because of Him are each of these precious students a part. He is writing our stories and weaving them together into a masterpiece.  

I’m praying that He will meet each of them in unique ways and lead their hearts and souls to Truth.  May He receive the glory and be the theme and end of each of their stories.  May the enemy not steal the joy of the ten who are coming, may we rejoice over each of them and may they see a glimpse of His rejoicing with singing over them.  May His truth and His love capture them, move them, and begin to give wings to future leaders for this community and this world.  What a privilege and joy to be here as a part of this journey!