Be Church

It’s been almost 4 years since we obeyed the voice of God to uproot our family & transplant ourselves into African soil. It took well over $20,000 to get us here, over 4 years of praying & preparing, 4 languages learned, families kissed goodbye, & tears—oh the tears—I thought would never end.

I had my mind made up about what exactly I’d do for the Lord in this strange & foreign land. We would tell every woman, man, child we saw about the Gospel & give them all of 16 seconds to decide if they wanted to follow Jesus or not. We’d baptize them. We’d plug them into a church or help them to start a new one. We’d disciple them. We’d train them in how they could do the same thing as us, but better, and make Jesus really proud of them.

But really I had no idea. What kind of person could be so sure of their calling yet have no clue? {Pick me!}

None of the tasks I listed above could be considered disobedience, so they don’t sound that bad. That’s because they don’t and they aren’t. But these components unto themselves aren’t the things that reflecting the relationship Christ has with church are made of.

Echelon is a team made up of different families. We committed to the Lord & to each other that we would live & move & breathe together—as the church. That no man or family would be left to operate alone. But just because we came to Africa as the church doesn’t mean that we remain a healthy one. And just because we use Christ as our model and are sent out in twos, doesn’t mean that we’re all done with obedience. It takes time & energy, blood, sweat, & tears to maintain our church. We have to be intentional as the church. We have to fight to remain a church that is pursuing Christ & showing honor to one another. As you can imagine, this requires a good portion of our day.

But are we too busy taking care of ourselves to be gospel sowers to those who’ve never heard? What about all those 1000s of dollars spent to send us to only tell lost people about Jesus’ life, death, burial, & resurrection—and our eternal hope of heaven? Do we stop ministering to the needs of the nationals around us while we shut down in order to keep our own junk together? An emphatic NO. But how? How do we keep up with both—maintaining a healthy church while trying to start new ones?

It’s because we don’t separate the two. We live AS the church & this attracts people TO the church. We ARE the church in order to GROW the church. We live life as Christ called us to—taking care not only of our own needs, but meeting the ones of those around us—and this gives us the open door to make disciples of all nations… to baptize them & teach them to obey the one true God.

We came as the church. We live as the church. And so we welcome those who were far from God into the church.


Dear Shepherd: 2 Years


Today you chewed half way through a 60 count pack of sugar-free gum before we could focus enough to take it away from you. “High amounts of sugar alcohol give people bad diarrhea. Wait for it!” I told your Daddy. At lunch I noticed you were taking baby wipes out of the diaper bag. I assumed you were going to wipe your hands & mouth, which seems to be your new thing. A minute later I noticed you were cleaning Daddy’s sweet & sour chicken off the food court floor. Except you hadn’t eaten any of his sweet & sour chicken & there shouldn’t have been any under your chair. I thought about it for a second, checked your pants, and BOOM. Diarrhea. You were cleaning your very diarrhea that I told your Daddy you’d have off the floor. We were SUPER proud of you!

You gave us a couple of good scares this year. Transitioning from walking to running, being an avid climber, learning to jump off of high things… those falls, scrapes, goose eggs, bumps & bruises & all the other normal boy things are hard on us Mamas. But all that seemed so small a thing when you got really sick after we moved to South Sudan & there was no pediatrician within a 3 days’ drive to treat you. And again when you fell off that cinder block & had a seizure & I packed an emergency bag, assuming we’d be medically evacuated within the next 4 hours. Everyone was letting us have it for taking a baby to South Sudan where no medical care is available for you. But we want you to know that we took you there out of obedience to the One who set the world into motion & calls the stars by name. And He gave us a doctor who would at least draw some blood & point us in the right direction of which type of antibiotic to give you. And He gave us a dear friend to buy that antibiotic for you in Uganda who gave it to a French Canadian pilot who flew it to us in a helicopter to South Sudan. And He held you in His perfect care for a week while we put a lot of our life on hold until we could get you to South Africa to see a doctor to make sure the seizure wasn’t epileptic. Now THAT is hard on a Mama.

You taught me a lot this year. Especially the day that you got disciplined for something that you didn’t deserve. It’s true, you weren’t listening very well to Mama that morning, but I shouted at you out of frustration & Daddy spanked you for it. I thought long & hard about that instance for a few days afterwards. I realized my serious shortcomings as your mother, cried & cried, & asked for your forgiveness & for more grace from the One who freely gives it. You did & of course He did & always does. Grace for then, grace for now, grace for when. Always grace.

Next year you will become a big brother to a little baby boy. I see you, so playful & thoughtful with other kids & my heart soars to think of you with your baby brother. I ache for the day you will have another boy around to play rough with but I also ache to give you the best of me for the next 4 months. I realize that time passes so quickly & we don’t have much more time together, just you & me. So that’s why tonight when you cried at bedtime, I decided that I’ll give you the best (tired) version of me & we’ll sing, we’ll name body parts, we’ll give kisses, & I’ll ask you questions that you always say “no” to. Because that’s what you do & that’s the Sheppy I love…

You say “no” for “yes.”
You call your paci “Pepsi.”
You call both me & Daddy “Mama.”
You yell “bobby!” when you see a bug.
You tell your toys “bye bye!” when you leave a room.
You pat your belly & say “I da bebe” when we ask where the baby is.

And yes you are. Always Mama’s baby. Happy Second Birthday, little one.

I still love you forever,

Be Real

They walk into our living room on Wednesday nights & trip over my emotions. I could be happy or sad or angry or irritable or at worst, indifferent. The candles are lit for aesthetics’ sake, I’ve straightened up the camping chairs that double as our living room furniture, the coffee is waiting to be pressed, & I’ve made sure everyone has a mug ready to be filled. But my cup is empty & they see it on my face. I wear everything on my face. Each Wednesday I look forward to meeting together, but I never know where I’ll be emotionally & spiritually at the end of the day. And the version of me at 8pm on Wednesday nights is the me that my team will know the best.

We set Wednesday nights aside to worship together as team & as family. A team made up of families & a family that’s our team. But Wednesday doesn’t really care that we’re meeting to share our hearts & that we should have everything together. A Wednesday could offer anything from free produce at the market –to– a sick baby –to– gunfire that’s too close for comfort –to– a cracked MacBook screen thanks to said sick baby {gasp}.

But you see, it doesn’t matter if baby boy projectile vomits on our living room rug plastic mat at 7:58 & I only have 2 minutes to get his clothes changed, teeth brushed, put in bed, our entire house sanitized, & then pull myself together enough to act like I’m not super annoyed before we come together as the church. Because that’s what we are: the church. We are the good, the bad, the ugly, & the unbearable; and this is what the church is made of.

It takes a little perspective in those moments leading up to 8:00 for me to realize, however, that I don’t HAVE to pretend I’m not annoyed with the puke or with the gunshots. Like I said – my face says it all & they’re going to know anyway. And then it’s like this newfound freedom knowing I can simply rest in being real with my brothers & sisters in Christ. Letting my team/church/family know my struggles. Letting them help me bear my burdens. Letting the fact that they had a crappy Wednesday too bring comfort that we’re not on this path of difficult obedience alone.

Because when we put on compassion & humility, bear together, forgive & be forgiven, & put on love… we bind ourselves in perfect unity. [Colossians 3:12-14]
Perfect unity can’t exist in a counterfeit church. Perfect unity comes in sincerity of heart.

So, I’ll just take next Wednesday as it comes. I might smile when they come through my door or I might not. But the coffee will be hot & in our candor, we’ll let the Spirit of God fill what’s empty.

The In-between


Our lives swing violently between turbulence and tranquility. I’ve been amazed again and again at how drastically a life can change in a matter of minutes. Like the time I slept & dreamt that we moved to South Sudan… only I actually woke up in South Sudan.

Our days are filled with the unexpected and nothing ever happens the same way twice. This starts at traffic laws and is true all the way to the pizza at my favorite cafe in Uganda. Some days it’s illegal to make U-turns in certain areas of town and other days we find ourselves trying to define what a U-turn is to the police. We have to deal with petty laws like “misuse of vehicle” (we had suitcases in the seat of our truck instead of passengers), “driving illegally by wearing sunglasses,” and oh how dare we drive our truck while wearing flip-flops! Not to mention, we have a right-side drive Land Cruiser, but now live in a country where we also drive on the right side of the road [think U.S. postal trucks]. We had to throw out all of the acrostics created to help Americans learn to drive in previous British colonies when we moved from Uganda to South Sudan. Nothing is the same. Ever. And do not even get me started on the issue of consistency, because sometimes your garlic pizza will have no garlic and your basil pizza will have no basil. And don’t go back tomorrow with high hopes just because they said they will have both garlic AND basil tomorrow, because “tomorrow” can mean anything from next week to never again.

When we lived in Uganda, our days followed no rhythm. A day that was pretty mild in events last year ended by Robert finding our gardener dropped dead in the mud. One sunny afternoon, Robert was driving to town with some short-term volunteers and found an almost dead suicide victim in the bushes. One night a hysterical woman from the neighboring village pleaded with us for a ride to the hospital because she had dropped her 4-month-old baby in the fire. That ride-side drive Land Cruiser has transported two dead bodies between hospital and grave and has been contaminated with every bodily fluid known to man. But the urgency was there because the death all around us was swallowing people up and Sheol just laughed.

But those are the days when we can be sure that Jesus is worth it. We keep busy during those days being His hands and His feet and His gauze pads and His cup of water and His hearse and His voice to ears that would rather listen to the lies. We feel fulfilled when we can DO and SAY and LISTEN. Because it really does something to a soul that cries to the God of heaven for rain on a shriveled savannah and He pours it out. And then the physical rain seems so little a thing when those deceived ears first listen to the Christ beckon and hearts repent and hands take up their cross and feet follow Him.

But how can I be sure today that Jesus is worth it in the in-between? Because today we are sitting, waiting in a lodge just 3 hours from the people group God called us to years ago. Our house isn’t finished and who can know when it will be?

I can be sure that He is worth it because Jesus is in the rest, too. It’s easy to see Him in the chaos, but the water gets muddied in the rest. Muddied with guilt, misplaced expectations, and entitlement.

Please pray today for missionaries to be content in all seasons of ministry. Pray for protection against discouragement and distraction. Pray for the humility to accept the much-needed times of rest. Pray especially for Echelon to be salt and light among the expat community during the wait and transition.

Oh, that our focus be made clear, our vision be corrected. May we rest in Him, enjoying Him all our days.

Dear Shepherd : 1 Year


KK was in the kitchen when the contractions first started. I didn’t tell her for over an hour because I didn’t want to scare her. Just 3 days before, my midwife said I had at least a week. We had spent the day picking up the mail & prepping for Thanksgiving, just in case.

It was hot in that kitchen so I asked her to come into the living room. I told her about this feeling I was having every 7 minutes. “Don’t worry, mama, I think I can hold off til Bobby gets back,” I assured her. I did everything I could to stop you. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. I tried relaxing in a warm bath, but there was no hot water. She rubbed my back but I just needed to walk. So I walked that tiny apartment, from room to room with a pending game of Yahtzee at stake.

We got in touch with Daddy just before he boarded his flight home from Cairo. He was worried but we were fine. Uncle J & Aunt Susan loaded up from Kaabong with the kids at 1am and started the 15 hour journey to Kampala. Word spread quickly and people world-wide were praying for us. You were front and center, little man.

It was the middle of the night. My contractions were getting stronger and my Yahtzee scores were getting worse. We timed the contractions… 5 minutes apart, then 4, then 3. My midwife wanted me to stay at home. To sleep, relax, breathe. I hadn’t been able to in hours. This was not first-time-mama jitters. You were coming and we went to the hospital against her advice. She joined us there after her bowl of cereal, and at 8am I was already 6cm dilated. Her tuned changed after my check up.

By 11am I just HAD to start pushing, again against the midwife’s advice. Daddy was stuck in Nairobi but KK was there, reminding me to breathe. And I did breathe. And pushed. And yelled. And prayed. You overwhelmed me, body and soul. You still overwhelm me. “I CAN’T!” But I could, and I did. At 11:37am that pedantic midwife caught you mid-air, slippery & squirmy & screaming. I collapsed over the back of that plastic Ugandan hospital bed mattress and it was nothing like the movies. No one yelled “It’s a boy!” so I yelled at them, “is it a boy???” You were. And you are… all boy. All 7 lbs 5 oz of you was boy. My boy. KK got to cut the umbilical cord. The midwife made mention about your chin right away. You have your daddy’s chin and I cried because you do and because he wasn’t there.

Naked you came from my womb and naked they laid you on my naked chest. Everything was naked about that moment. Our skin but so much more the raw emotion of it all. A person really sees the depths of a woman during child birth. And the woman sees the depths of herself. A girl becomes a woman and that woman becomes a mama. It’s bare and it’s laid out and there’s nothing that can be hidden when a girl-turned-mama holds her babe for the first time. 

Aunt Susan was your first visitor & I made them let her come into the room. Daddy was able to get his plane ticket changed but he still won’t tell me how much it cost him. You were almost 3 hours old when you first melted into his arms and his tears melted us all. There we were, a brand new family blissfully happy and desperately tired. God was there in that delivery room.

The sleepless weeks passed by and you grew and we grew. Papa & Granny Wade enjoyed you for 2 weeks and left just before you amazed us all by rolling over at 3 weeks old. We spent the most emotional Christmas ever together as our little family of 3. Nammy & Grandaddy joined us just before New Year’s and we brought in what would be the most challenging year of our lives yet on Mt. Elgon.

You nursed and slept perfectly during difficult road trips and started smiling and were the first white newborn the Kaabong Dodoth had ever seen and they gave you Karomojong names and Shelli came to help us and we lived in a mud hut and I sang you to sleep and you started laughing and you slept through the night and we took you to the Middle East and you learned to sit up and KK came for another visit and you started eating solids and you moved into your own room and you rode on a camel and we packed up our house & moved and you were taken care of by Ugandan nannies while we learned Arabic and you started to crawl and you started saying Dada and started pulling up and you weaned earlier than I wanted you to and you took one step and your hair got longer and you started to clap and you cut a tooth and we packed up our house & moved again and TOMORROW YOU WILL TURN ONE.

You’re wild as they come. You are so happy and can reduce a full grown man to baby talk with that smile. You love your paci and sing yourself to sleep. You say Dada when I try to get you to say Mama. You lick floors. You can destroy a room within minutes. You once loved baths but now cry the whole time through. You’re really good at climbing up and down stairs. You eat an adult portion of chicken curry. You look just like Papa. You have a farmer’s tan. You would die a happy baby if we’d just leave you alone to eat the grass outside. You laugh hysterically when you pull up on my legs while I’m doing the dishes. You clap when you hear music. Your stroller is your happy place. You sit still only if I read you “Little Blue Truck.” You are the most beautiful boy and it is joyfully impossible to keep up with how you change every day. 

It was one year ago tonight that you decided Daddy Or Not, Here I Come. My life changed forever that long day. I’m grateful for the grace and that you’re still too small to see my infinite imperfections. Being your mommy has changed me, is changing me, and will always change me. Thankful this season especially for you. Happy First Birthday tomorrow, little one. 

I love you forever, 

Out with the Old

Leaving your family behind in obedience to God has its perks. Like that one time when Jesus promised one hundred fold and eternal life to those who leave their homes, families, and mother land for His name’s sake {Matthew 29:19}. That is not to say that walking away from the familiar is without heartache and shed tears… but I mean, a hundred-fold? And life never ending? C’mon.

It was hard to say goodbye to my family. Some people call it “see ya later,” but I’m a realist and I call it like I see it. Leaving for four years sometimes feels like “see ya never,” because let’s be real, a lot happens in four years. People grow old, some die, babies are born, friends are married off… and it’s a hard pill to swallow watching life at home go on without you.

Leaving America on January 4 meant that we had to say goodbye during the Christmas season. Instead of focusing on how hard that was, we disciplined ourselves to be grateful that God allowed our last days at home to be filled with cold weather and our entire families being together. God graced me with the presence of mind to use that time to make new family traditions since we were all undergoing a substantial life change. We laughed, we cried, we shared, we hugged, we tasted, we experienced, we loved. Enjoy some photos from my best Christmas yet.

From the top, left to right (like a book): Granny’s hysterical laugh during Skype/FaceTime lessons; Bobby roasting Ethiopian coffee beans; me preparing African peanut sauce and fried halloumi for Christmas dinner; me and Mama throwing ourselves a February birthday party in December; one of our many trips to Starbucks; Dad excited about chocolate covered bacon; Bubba enjoying his new UT door mat; Anniston getting sweet late night kisses from Aunt Maridith

First I Cried, then I Laughed

There were sixteen of us crammed around the table. The two waiters serving us made eighteen very warm bodies stuffed into a room built for six. We were triple their capacity, but no one seemed to mind… no one but me. Nine of our party of sixteen were children—two of them were twelve years old and the other seven were four and under. An elbow to the left side, a kick to the shin, a spilled drink across the table, a glass Coca-Cola bottle shattered at my feet, and another elbow to the left. We had been seated for at least an hour and now three of the children were crying. The food began to slowly trickle out of kitchen plate by plate and mine of course came last {undoubtedly the only one that required no cooking—a salad!}. I was two days old in Africa—I was pushing 72 hours without sleep. I was on the wrong malaria medicine. It was hot and I was hungry. I somehow managed to block out the sticky messes and screaming children as I finally began to eat. Then without any warning, we lost electricity and I began to cry. When our waiter came and placed lit candles on our already crowded table, I noticed that my tears had turned to hysterical laughter in that dimly lit room. Strangely enough, eating a plate of lettuce in the dark was just the ticket for pushing through jet lag and the emotional rubble left in the aftermath of mefloquine.

We’ve been in Africa now for two weeks, and we continue to lose power regularly. In fact, we don’t have electricity more often than we have it (even went out twice today in the supermarket!). I’m sure consistent power outages eventually wear out their welcome for those living in the city and paying for electricity, but as for me, I wanna keep finding joy in the ambiance of it all. Preparing to move to the bush has certainly had its way of changing my perspective…