Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Night of Encouragement

As most of you know, I spent nearly a year in Uganda completing the adoption of my daughter, Mercy.  During that time I got to spend lots of time with ex-patriates living and serving in Uganda.  I've read about and been around missionaries my whole life, but God developed in me a whole new level of love and appreciation for full-time missionaries, especially those serving in a different culture. 

I saw some of the good and bad effects of short-term mission teams.  I found missionaries struggling with culture and language.  I witnessed those frustrated by a lack of tangible results and questioning their call.  I heard about those who'd been taken advantage of or cheated.  I knew women trying to balance home school, family, and ministry while also dealing with a lack of resources or other supplies and luxuries we take for granted.

I didn't know what exactly to do with this burden for missionaries, but then one day God gave me an idea.  I was trying to plan out my short-term mission trip and was comtemplating what work we were equipped to do and how we could best be used.  Then I realized that my team could host a special night to encourage missionary women. We were good party planners.  We had some amazing worship leaders with us.  We had those with the gift of encouragement. We could give them a night out to fellowship, worship, and get re-energized for their work. 

It dawned on me that this could also be a great way to find new partners for the work of Mercy for Mamas.  My friend Kathryn has been using mama kits as a ministry tool for nearly two years.  It's been so neat for me to see this simple gift open up new doors for her and her work.  Read her blog here about just one woman's birth experience.  We've given mama kits to several missionaries, but I loved the idea of our Night of Encouragements giving us more women to partner with in our work.  One of my favorites things about Mercy for Mamas is putting mama kits in the hands of the people on the ground in Uganda (full-time missionaries or locals) to use for ministry.

Pasca, the woman Kathryn wrote about in her blog.

I had this whole vision in my head of this "Night of Encouragement".  I had big hopes and dreams for it, but perhaps some lingering doubt too.  Where would I find these women?  Would they come? How will I pay for this? Do they really need this or did I imagine it?  Really, Lord you think I should plan for 100 women?  I made the plans, sent off the invites, and then I waited.  Slowly, women began to RSVP.  People passed on the info to their friends and colleagues. Maybe this would work.

All of the plans for the night began to come together.  The children at my church raised more than $800 during Vacation Bible School to use for projects on our mission trip.  I sold Mercy for Mamas t-shirts to also help off-set costs.  I had some others randomly ask if they could give towards our effort.  God supplied more than enough money to cover everything. We had venues, menus, guest lists, and even decorations.  It was so cool to see it all fall in place.

Another aspect of the night that I knew we needed to include was a goody bag for each woman to take home.  I knew the importance of the occasional indulgent treat from home when you are living overseas.  I also knew from my time in Uganda what most women would be wanting/craving.  I asked each person on the mission team to be in charge of gathering 1-2 items for the goody bags.  I told them they could just buy them or get their friends/church to help them... whatever worked for them.  We collected all kinds of fun things!
Goody Bags ready for distribution!

So two weeks ago, we held our first 'Night of Encouragement" in Kampala and two nights later we held another in Jinja.  We had more than 115 women attend (we had just enough goody bags!). The women ate yummy food, caught up with old friends, and met new friends.  So many of these women never get a night out... ever.   They are in missionary-mode 24 hours a day.  They are always so busy doing work for others that they rarely get to take any time for themselves.  They were hungry for fellowship and for a night out with other women that "get it".


In Kampala, as we stood outside under the stars singing and I listened to the voices of all of these women worshipping, I could not help but cry and praise God for his provision.  Somehow God gathered up all of these women to this place.  I did not know these women.  I did not really know what they needed, but God did.  I kept stopping just to look around in awe at how God had orchestrated this special night.

Towards the end of the evening, I asked the women to get into smaller groups. I wanted them to be able to share more of their struggles and prayer needs with each other.  My team spread out among the groups to help lead in prayer for the women.  I expected this to go on for maybe 10 minutes, but the majority of the groups spent at least 30 minutes together.

We gave mama kits to all of the women for them to use in their ministry. These missionaries  understand the need for clean births in Uganda.  They get what a blessing these kits can be to a pregnant mama.  It was so fun to hear them discussing their plans for their mama kits. One lady was so excited that she stopped and gave out two mama kits to people she knew before she even got home. I can't wait to share stories from these women in the days ahead of how they've used the mama kits in their ministries.  Mercy for Mamas has new contacts with crisis pregnancy centers, midwives, and medical missionaries because of these "Nights of Encouragement". 

One woman came up to me afterwards and told me that just days before she'd emailed a friend back home and told them to find her a job because she was done with Uganda and ministry. She said God used that night to renew her calling and give her hope to continue in her work. Another woman told me that in 8 years of living in Uganda no one had ever done something special just for her. Over and over again women told me that the night was perfectly timed and just the time of refreshement that they needed. You can go here and read one woman's take on the night. love it! After looking in the goody bags, one lady was nearly in tears over the ranch dressing mix. She told me that she had seriously prayed for God to send someone to her with ranch dressing. For reals people, ranch dressing can be serious ministry!

 My goal was to encourage these women, but I left both nights encouraged and renewed in my own ministry.  Thank you God for letting my team play a part in this special night.  Thank you Lord for all of the amazing women we met and the ministry they do in Uganda. 

3 comments:

  1. So neat to see how God brought your idea to fruition! Awesome.

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  2. What a beautiful illustration of how God truly is the God of all Comfort! I never cease to be amazed at how he used your months of hardship for the good of so many, and continues to do so, and all to His glory. Thank you, Melissa, for being a willing vessel.
    Pam

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  3. What a precious gift you have given these women. My passion is encouragement so this really tugged on my heart. I'm beginning a Share the Shelter linky party tomorrow. It's a take of of Samuel Colerige's poem, "Friendship is a Sheltering tree," and involves encouraging those around us. I'd be delighted if you would link this post.

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