“Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phillippians 2:15
A few weeks after I returned from Africa I heard this verse in church. Those few simple words grabbed my attention and made my heart leap out of my chest with an immediate joy that began seeping into my heart & took me back to Africa. Uganda was incredible. I knew that it would fill my life’s bucket with unimaginable experiences, but I had no idea that it would literally overflow it. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Entebbe and smelled the air of that beautiful country, I knew it would not be the last time that my feet would touch that ground. We were immediately welcomed by a group of people who were, at the time, complete strangers, but in time, would become some of our greatest friends. It was a welcome like I have never experienced in my life. Hugs upon hugs, sweet embraces that I wish could have lasted forever and that I now long for. I felt more at peace in that first 24 hours than I had felt in 24 years. Truly, peace was overwhelming my spirit. To share all that those 10 days held would take an eternity, but I will try!
A few days after we had arrived, we were supposed to head to the Restoration Home to spend the day with the 42 girls that live there. It was a Saturday so we were ecstatic to have them home from school and be able to fellowship with each of them. However, God had a detour for our morning… Instead of going straight to the Restoration Home we went to the four girls apartment who are taking part in Passion Partners Transitional Program. They are students at University and had been living at the Restoration Home for many years but now are graduating out and have their very own place to call home.
I felt so special. They were inviting me into their home as a guest and I felt so humbled. I don’t know that I really understood the meaning of the word until that moment. They had chairs set up for each of us in their “sitting room”. I wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing there but of course we all took a seat. They shared with us how grateful they were to have us in their home and how we were most welcome guests.
What happened next brings a feeling to my heart that I hope I never loose. One by one, each of the girls shared their beautiful, remarkable, unimaginable testimonies. Some of the most intense emotions I have ever felt in my life overcame me, but I praise God for those feelings. I cannot imagine some of the their tribulations but their triumphs are just plain marvelous and they shared both with us in raw form. Their hearts had certainly been broken but they only spoke of God’s glory. I saw each of them as truly authentic followers of Christ and I wanted what they had. Each of them were completely immersed in God’s grace. The power of the Lord’s presence in that house was staggering. After each of the girls had shared their story, we got into a circle, holding hands of precious people that God had intently placed together to be in that space, on that day, in that exact moment and prayed. Tears kept streaming down my face and I felt God holding my heart real tight. I felt a closeness to him that I never had before and it was in that moment, hands held tight with those around me, that I told him that I wanted to feel that bear hug around my heart forever.
Now let me circle back around to the beginning part of the post, where I shared Phillippians 2:15. That verse struck me because each of the people that I met on my trip truly shine like stars in the sky. They radiate a beam of light that I have never experienced. I long to shine like each of them in a sky full of stars.
Since I have been home the day to day has assuredly gotten much easier and I can now share some of those intimate moments of my trip with others without weeping but I can certainly tell you that God did something to my heart while I was on the ground in Uganda that I cannot describe but I give him all the Glory for every single step I took on that trip. He placed some of the most precious people in my life. I can’t imagine what life was like without them. God, you are so good.
Gradi Ellis is a guest blogger from Nashville, TN. She traveled with Passion Partners on their Summer 2014 Missions Trip. To learn more about joining Passion Partners on an upcoming trip, visit www.passionpartners.org/get-involved/go.