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Passionately Pursuing God's Will

Senior education major Maycee Zeitlow fulfilled a lifelong dream when she traveled from her home in Longview, Texas, halfway around the world during the summer of 2019 to work with orphans at Good Shepherd’s Fold in Uganda.

I can’t remember a time when my dream was something other than serving God somewhere in Africa—it’s been my dream since I was a little girl,” Zeitlow said. “But it didn’t just stay a dream, it turned into a passion. As I became more and more interested about working at a children’s home somewhere in the continent of Africa, God placed Uganda on my heart, and that was the country I knew I wanted to go to someday.” 

  1. Tell about your trip to Uganda, what made you want to go, who you stayed with, how long you were gone, what you were there to do. 

I can’t remember a time when my dream was something other than serving God somewhere in Africa—it’s been my dream since I was a little girl. But it didn’t just stay a dream, it turned into a passion. As I became more and more interested about working at a children’s home somewhere in the continent of Africa, God placed Uganda on my heart, and that was the country I knew I wanted to go to someday.

I have prayed for years for an opportunity like the one I had, and at one point, I was getting a little too ambitious and ran ahead of God, trying to jump at any opportunity to go, even if it was something I was not completely interested in. God slammed the door to those trips, and I am SO grateful that he did. God knew what he was doing, even if I was too blind to see that his timing would be perfect, and he would pursue this passion because it is a direct gift from God.

I served in Uganda at Good Shepherd’s Fold (GSF) for two months, along with one of my new good friend, Anna Reed. Anna and I did not know each other before our internships. We met in the Houston airport, and it could not have been more awkward. God turned that awkward meeting into one of the greatest friendships in the world, and I have no doubt that we will be friends forever. We lived on the GSF campus in the guesthouse. We could see the children’s houses from our house and some of the missionaries also lived on the campus.

I worked under the Sponsorship Coordinator, Corinne. She also oversees the Baby House and is one of the communications directors. Coming into this internship, all I knew was that I was going to be helping each child at GSF write letters to their sponsors. There are 60 kids in residence and they each have about 4 sponsors. That’s 240 letters and a lot of patience! My favorite part about helping each child write their letter was that I got to learn about them individually and what makes them unique. I learned about their interests and their favorite things. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that if I would have been placed in another role, and I am so thankful this was my job.

While I was doing the sponsorship work, I was also working with the toddlers. Not all of the toddlers were old enough to go into the K3 class this year, so the caregivers would hold a circle time every morning. I had the privilege of helping lead it. We would sing and dance, have a super-short lesson, and then we would color and go on a walk. I LOVED my mornings with the toddlers. It was my favorite part of the day, in addition to the afternoon when I would go to their house and play for a couple of hours.

After I finished my work under the sponsorship umbrella, Corinne asked me to help in the communications department. I wrote several newsletters about the kids and what was going on at GSF. I loved this job. I also got to work behind the scenes of their social media page (@gsfuganda), and this was a fun task too! Once I had finished all my work for the summer, I played and played and played. I did my best to soak in every minute I had with the little babes at GSF. They have my heart.

  1. Tell me why this trip was so important to you to do?  Tell me about the first time you met with the orphaned children.  What was that introduction like?  How did they react to you?  What was going on inside your heart? 

This trip was more than I could have ever prayed for. It truly is hard to put into words how thankful I am that God chose me to go to Uganda and serve at GSF. The very first time I met the children I was teaching Sunday School in the toddler house. I wanted to burst into tears when I walked through the door and all 17 of them ran to hug my legs while yelling “Visitor! Visitor!” which quickly turned into “Auntie Maycee!” The only thing I could compare their greetings to is like when you get home from going to the store and your dog acts like he/she hasn’t seen you in years. Multiply that by 20 and you have the excitement of these sweet babies every time they saw me for 60 days. Pure joy. That is the only way to describe the feeling in my heart.

  1. How did you deal with hearing their stories and learning their personalities?  What did these children seem to want from you the most—your touch, your smile, your undivided attention?  What did you learn about these children that you feel will provide you insight about all children as you become a schoolteacher? 

Learning the stories of each child at GSF brought its own heartache, but I was also able to rejoice in the fact that those babies—who were once abandoned or who do not have any parents—are now living in one of the most loving and caring places. GSF is so special in that way—providing a Christian education and training up each child to love the Lord just like Proverbs 22:6 says to do. Children who were being abused and malnourished are now at a healthy weight, and they smile all day. They are getting great big hugs from their caregivers, friends, and missionaries. They know how loved they are by God, and they respond in praise and worship.  

The children LOVED to hold my hand, be carried, and sit in my lap. In fact, at one point I thought my legs were going to break because I had about six kids sitting in my lap. But I would take two broken legs any day if it meant I got to have those six babies in my lap again. They also loved taking pictures. Sometimes I wouldn’t have my phone out to take pictures and they would say, “Auntie Maycee, I want to see myself!” You bet I whipped my phone out and took 32 selfies with them every time they said those words.

One of the greatest things I learned during my time there was told to me by one of the missionaries. He is a teacher at the missionary kid school at GSF, and we were having a conversation about loving the students in our classrooms. He told me that even if I do not teach in Uganda, my students in the U.S. are also going to have some form of poverty in their lives. It may not be financial poverty, but it could be related to family—whether they have parents, siblings, or a lack thereof. It could be spiritual poverty or emotional poverty. I had never thought of it that way. Even though those babies in Uganda stole my heart—and I can’t wait to go back—God has me placed in the U.S. right now, and I am to serve and be obedient where I am. The mindset and insight that this missionary gave me while we were talking has really helped me to love my students more abundantly. [Editor’s note: Maycee is student teaching during this Fall 2019 semester.]    

  1. What did these children teach you about the love of God for us, His children?  Did you overcome any cultural barriers? Did you learn anything specific about different cultures during your trip?

I am striving every day to have the childlike faith those babies have. They are so full of life, and I have never seen anything so pure and innocent. They love God and they know without a shadow of a doubt that His love for us goes deeper than any ocean and higher than any mountain. They rejoice, sing, and dance in the freedom of our King without hesitation. I think that is admirable.

  1. Tell me about the most impactful relationship you built while you were there and how it continues to bless you.

One of my favorite things that came out of this trip was the relationship I built with my sponsor child. I knew going into the summer that I wanted to sponsor one of the children at GSF, and on the first day, I knew who it was. She stole my whole heart, and I will never get enough of her sweet smile and big, beautiful eyes. She is very soft spoken and has a tender heart that loves Jesus and others so well. I watch videos of her laughing almost every day, and they make me cry every time. One of my favorite things we would do together was go on walks. She always held my pinky finger, and that is one of my favorite things from the summer. When I came home from Uganda, my sister had placed on my nightstand a picture of my sponsor child and me. It reminds me every night to pray for that sweet girl. I also love that her smile in that picture is one of the first things I see in the morning.

  1. How do you feel this trip has changed you? Were there any difficult moments or circumstances that challenged you?  What helped you through difficult circumstances or troubling times? 

I began reading on the plane a devotional book called “100 Days to Brave” by Annie F. Downs. It has been incredible and brought such peace to my life. About halfway through my journey, I had this feeling that I did not want to be a teacher anymore. I didn’t know where it came from. I had always wanted to be a teacher.

I called my dad in tears, and I had no idea how to tell him, but I knew I needed to talk with him and hear what the Lord would lead him to say. He calmed me down and talked me through it. He then began writing what he sees in me and why he believes I am going to be a good teacher. The biggest thing he wrote and talked to me about was how I am a nurturer. The funny thing about that was, a few days prior to him telling me this, in my devotional book I read about how I have one true calling, but throughout my life, I will have multiple ways to express it. I wrote down that my calling is to nurture, and teaching kindergarten is one way for me to express it. Teaching may not always be the only way I express my calling, but for now in this season of life, I am to teach.

The other major thing God taught me was to fully surrender my life to him. My dreams, my plans, my whole entire life. Give him the pen, and he will write the most incredible story I could never dream of.

I learned that I will never know and comprehend his plan for me until I surrender. So, I did. Right there in bed as I wrote this, I surrendered it all. Instead of trying to take the pen and write my life story, I gave it to God, and I am learning to take baby steps in the way he is leading me.

I watched many sermons and read a few blog posts during my down time on this specific subject.  Through them I learned—and am still learning—to pray that God would make HIS plan for my life MY plan. I pray that I would have confidence and assurance wherever he takes me. Giving my plans to God is easily one of the hardest things I have ever done. I thought I knew what was best for me, but I was never satisfied with the steps I was taking toward the plan I had for myself. I have battled with surrendering for a long time. I like to be in control. I have finally been able to humble myself before God and tell him to take it all. I pray for him to take all of me and do what HE wants to do. And in that, I found the peace I have been missing for so long. Through this, I have learned that God is who he says he is. He is faithful, and he will hold me fast. I am clinging to that; clinging to the cross and to his faithfulness and goodness.  

The last thing I’ve learned is patience. I am already a pretty patient person when it comes to people, but I am learning to have patience in all areas and seasons of life. In all friendships, relationships with family, school, health, pretty much every area of life. I have learned that waiting produces maturity, and that God’s perfect timing is far more perfect than the timing I would choose. My job is not to run ahead or lag behind him, but to take natural steps that are in line with his word and where he is leading me. When I do this, he will prepare me for the day when he delivers my heart’s desires. This whole ‘patience’ thing goes hand in hand with surrendering everything to God. I’m not sure when he is going to make his next small or big move in my life, but I will wait patiently right where he has me until he leads me elsewhere. 

I have never been one to read my Bible every day, and I have never found joy in attempting to do so. Every day of my trip, I studied God’s word and meditated on it. I was in constant conversation with him and wrote out my prayers. I would sit outside and take deep breaths, enjoying God’s creation.

During the chaos that every new day brought, I learned how important it is to find time to rest in my Lord and have one-on-one time with him. Out of the many things I learned during this journey, this is the most important—how crucial it is to be in God’s word and pursue him every day. I truly believe I learned so much about myself and my Creator because I was in his word daily. He opened my mind and gave me new perspectives. He stretched me and told me to leap into uncomfortable situations because he was going to use those times to further his kingdom, but I needed to use the bravery and courage he was bringing out from deep down inside of me. Bravery and courage were two character traits I have been searching for and found in my Jesus.

One of the Bible verses that Anna and I both ran to during our time in Uganda was Jeremiah 33:3, which reads: “Call to me and I will answer you and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” There was a lot of unknown and uncertainty during the two months of my journey, and I spent a lot of time crying out to God and asking for his peace. This verse reminded me that my God hears me, and through the unknown, he will reveal himself.

  1. Tell me what it was like saying goodbye to the children.  What did you feel?  What helped you?  What you feel God wants to teach ALL OF US about what you learned while you were there?

The day I said goodbye to the children at GSF was easily the worst day of my life. I felt like I could physically feel my heart breaking. My family was ready for me to be back home, but my heart and soul were not ready to leave. The biggest thing that helped me was having Anna. She was the only one who could truly understand what I was feeling, and it was a blessing that we got to travel home together and be there for each other when we returned home, even though we live six hours apart.

Before I stepped on the plane to go to Uganda, I was full of doubt. Was this really where God was calling me to go for the summer? I mean, it had to be; this was my dream since I was a little girl. But why was I full of doubt? Why was I full of fear and anxiety? It took a few days of being in Uganda to fully have peace that this was exactly where God wanted me to be. In the times of uncertainty, God was my calming voice and steady hand. He reminded me how he is constant—he always has been, and he always will be. That was one of the biggest ways God revealed himself to me, reminding me that he is constant in a world that tells me differently. Don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith. It was the best thing I have ever done.

  1. What would you say to other students considering traveling abroad? 

I would strongly encourage students to travel abroad. Not only did I learn more about my gracious God and live a dream come true, I was part of a completely different culture for two whole months. Everything was different. Even the grocery shopping and ice cream was different. It’s the kind of experience everyone needs in their life. It doesn’t have to be for a very long time. Living in a whole new world and a new culture is an experience like no other.  I think God wants us to have those experiences to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ and to make more disciples. That’s our mission.