Sunday, September 6, 2015

"I'm not able on my own" - Needtobreathe

5 weeks. I've been back in this beautiful country for 5 weeks now. It seems like forever, and yet, so little time.

I love the crazy bird sounds, from the caw of the ibis to the duck-like sounds of the crested cranes that have made their nest close to home. I still forget that I live in a tropical environment- I look up to see a palm tree and am quickly reminded. I've found my favorite flower here in full bloom on a bush in the center of the school grounds. Adventure has shown itself in various forms from boda rides to an abundance of power outages.

I've jumped into a well-established position that I get to continue to grow. It's a big job.  I spend a lot of time in meetings. I have been charged to make some big decisions. If you know me well, you know that I am terrible at making decisions. Even after I make decisions I fret over it was the correct one or not. God is growing me here. I am not able to do this on my own. Not by a long shot.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"It's like a hurricane is coming our way, We've all been warned but we still chose to stay" - Needtobreathe

For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, I'm back in the United States. And I'm in New Jersey. A number of people have asked me to compare my experience with Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath with my time in Africa. It's been similar in many ways, but in other ways quite different. Some of my friends in Africa asked me what a hurricane is. I defined it simply as a really really big thunder storm with crazy strong winds and lots of flooding...except it's really bad.

A very common sight!

My current situation is that I am at my cousin's apartment just trying to stay warm. I lost power one week and one day ago at my parent's home. I don't have a smart phone, so that means I don't have access to the internet. It's 42 degrees today and it dropped down to 25 degrees last night (for you metric folk, that's -4 degrees). My dad stayed at home last night to "guard the house and care for the cat." My mom stayed in NYC at Emmaus House where she volunteers (

Let's go situation by situation.

Lack of power: I've gone days without power in both the US and Uganda. Luckily I lived in the city in Uganda and knew lots of people with generators. So, if I go tired of sitting in the dark, I could get a ride to someones home with power. It seems like more people have generators this year compared to last year's hurricane (I guess some people learned, though last year was a much different storm). We do not have a generator at our home. Nor do know anyone with an extra one around. And pretty much everyone was in the same boat. People keep asking when we will get power back here. Rumor has it that it will be at least another week for our neighborhood. The wind pretty much knocked everything down. I overheard someone describing the area that I work in as it looking like a bomb exploded there. There's a lot to clean up, and lot of power lines that need to be fixed. We pedestrians don't wanna mess with that stuff! In Uganda the power company might tell you when to expect power outages. Sometimes they would be accurate, while other times not so much. Also, power was usually out for short periods of time. When we knew blackouts were coming we would charge our computers and phones ahead of time and unplug quickly so that when the power surge came they wouldn't be spoiled completely.
Trees down the road that fell on power lines!

Lack of power meaning no refrigerator: To most of the population of Uganda- no power- what refrigerator? If they have a fridge, again, they probably have access to a generator or they know someone who will let them use it for a few hours at least. If not, Ugandans are so friendly that they'd just cook up all the food and have a feast for the whole town. America? So much food is prepackaged here and goes bad if it's not kept in the freezer. Sad days.

Lack of internet: Africa- who has internet? Ok, so a lot of people do have access to internet cafes these days in the cities. In this area of America, most people have smart phones, and are wayyyy too addicted to their constant contact social network connections. It is frustrating for us who don't have internet access while the rest of the world goes on expecting you to have complete access and reply to things. People just don't understand that it's not going to happen.

Lack of phone use: Unfortunately, for the first 5 days of the power outage, there was also no cell phone signal and landlines are still down. People with their smart phones were frustrated at not being able to power up and use the internet at a drop of a hat. In Uganda, I was used to the network not working all the time. Once, I got a text message 8 months after it had been sent. True story.  People out in the villages often don't leave their phones on, and to charge them they will walk to the nearest village and leave their phone at a shop for a few hours and pay to get it charged.

Gas shortage: Gas doesn't always make it to Uganda. It's landlocked. The petrol comes from ships off of the Indian Ocean. Who runs the Indian Ocean? Pirates. Yes, they still exist for you sheltered people out there. So gas doesn't always make it to the port of Mombasa in Kenya. Sometimes the roads are blocked along the 24 hour drive from Mombasa to the capital city of Uganda, Kampala. When there is a gas shortage in Uganda, some forms of public transport go up. Bodas (the motorcycle taxis) will often try to get more money from their passengers. In America? PANIC. Ever heard of the gas shortages in the 70's? They imposed a law that on even numbered days people whose last number on their license plate ends in an even number can get gas. Well, it's happened again. I'm hoping I don't need to wait in 2 insanely long times today (one to get gas, and one to vote...I better get going!) People here are crazy. I know people who have waited in line for 1 1/2 hours just to get cut off 10 cars ahead of them. I know others who have been tempted to take bribes for letting a car cut them in line. You get the idea.

Lonnng lines on highways for gas.

Temperature: The good thing about it being soooo cold outside is that we can just put the things from the fridge out on the deck. And watch out that the squirrels don't steal everything. In Uganda we didn't have to worry about the weather during outages. The weather was practically perfect all year round in Kampala. My cousin's apartment is rather happily situated surrounding other apartments so it's quite warm in here now. However, at home without power, I couldn't feel my hands or nose, and that was when I was still under 2 blankets. 100 years ago people lived much differently and didn't have power, but stayed warm. However, people had fireplaces in every room in their house! Please join in prayer for people to stay warm!!!

Stoplights being out: In Uganda, people don't really follow traffic laws. And the cops tend to make up their own laws as they go (I'm speaking from experience). Don't get me wrong, I love the place dearly, but there is corruption. You'll often find a long line at a stoplight just to find that some police officers decided to ignore the light and tell people to go themselves. In the US, there are signs put up when lights go out, but people still don't know what to do! Even if there is no stop sign at an intersection where there is usually a stoplight, they stop. It's comforting to know that people err on the side of caution. It's still crazy to me though that as we were driving last night the car that I was in hit a live wire hanging from a power line. There are still not enough signs to warn people of impending danger. Thank the Lord we were OK.

No power at intersections.

Grocery stores: Another funny aspect about power being out in Uganda is that stores and restaurants are still open- just with limited menus or candles lining the isles so that you can see what products are on the shelf. It was somehow enchanting. I was reminded of this the other day when I went into a grocery store that had a generator running just for one cashier. The rest of the store was dark. The meat, cheese and freezer sections were eerily empty. My cousin found one grocery store with ice. They had a limit of 2 bags. One lady wanted to buy 3 in front of her. When she was told that she couldn't buy that many the woman just got mad and left.

Attitudes: And that brings us to our next section. People in America are selfish. I hate to admit it, but it is SO true. The government told people that because there is so much wreckage, that people will have to find their own way of getting rid of all the rubbish in their yards (leaves, trees, branches, etc.). I drove down several roads that you could barely drive on because so many people have ignored that and just put their huge branches in the street. Not even the sidewalk, the street. People just don't care- they only care about themselves and their problems. Let me rephrase that, there are some who care, but they are diamonds in the rough. Someone just asked me today what I thought of Uganda. My first response was that Ugandans are some of the most friendly people in the world, and the most giving. True story. Even if they don't have much, if they see a need, they give. If someone comes to their door, they invite them in and feed them, even if they have no idea who they are. They're just giving by nature. We could use some more of that around these parts. Just sayin'.

Water usage: People's wells don't work in America without power. If the water is running, there have been concerns about the safety of consuming it due to contamination. I guess there's always a chance that due to flooding, bad water can get mixed in. All I have to say is that at least in the US we don't need to worry about all of those evil water-born diseases. AND water comes to our homes. How amazing is that!? No seriously, do you know how blessed you are? I had water come to my home in Uganda, but I even had to go and buy drinking water in huge jugs at least once a week. And people in villages? Not so much fun having to walk a few miles, fill up a huge yellow jug by using your whole body weight in physical exercise after waiting in a line, then hoisting that jug on top of your head and walking slowly back to your home. But wait, it's not done there! Then one pours some into a pot. Luckily, you've already got a fire going. After waiting a while for the water to boil, you take it off and wait for it to cool down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat for the rest of your life...and that's just if you have water access. Ok, enough.

Me carrying a small jug of water back to the hut we were staying in out near the border of Kenya. Notice I can't handle the balancing act. They've got some strong neck muscles! 

Cooking: A lot of people in the US have electric stoves, so when the power is out, they can't cook. In Uganda, people know better. We always had not only gas ranges, but a way to light the oven when the power was out. I'm blessed to live in a place that has a gas range, but no oven. At least we've been able to make hot water for hot chocolate and make some stir fry!

What to do???: A lot of people's places of employment have either been closed or they've not been able to get there. My school has been closed since before we lost power, as with the public schools in the area. Yesterday afternoon I drove through a town and saw some kids with backpacks. I said to my cousin, "Are they coming from school?!!" Her response was "Jealous?" Absolutely! I miss teaching. Even if it's not exactly what I thought I'd be doing, I still miss it and those kiddos. I am however very thankful to have a job. Period.
People here don't know how to occupy themselves without access to their computers and TV. In Uganda we got along fine playing games by candle light. I've been doing a lot of reading by candle light here, a task which few others seem willing to undertake due to the flickering.

Ok, so that was longer than it needed to be, but I hope you found it entertaining or insightful. Both places have their weakness and strengths, as we all do.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Here's a few shots of my work at Heritage during my days teaching there this year. Now I am back safe and sound in the US and adjusting to the time difference slowly. Thanks for your continued prayers! I'll write more about my last few days in Uganda soon!

Teaching Grade 2B at Heritage

Opening Chapel for the year

The classroom door for our class!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"You'll never know what it means to me just to know you've been on your knees for me, oh, you have blessed my life" -Watermark

Heritage International School's 2012-2013 year has begun! was to begin tomorrow, but due to construction delay and some of the classrooms not being built yet, it will start on Monday. We teachers have been hard at work. For the past week we've been at school getting our rooms ready, organizing books, going to meetings, preparing lessons and praying...
...I've done my best to guard my heart so that I don't feel as though I'm one of the other teachers. This new lot of teachers seems really fantastic. They're experienced, kind and have good hearts. The school has really expanded and has over 300 students coming! I've been going to worship and devotions in the morning, then going to work in the Grade 2B classroom while the others are in meetings about the school and the curriculum. I've got most of the lessons for the first week done and the walls are getting decorated slowly. Since I used to teach at Heritage, I was asked to plan for the first week of school so that the other substitute will just come in and follow the directions left. Yesterday afternoon after visiting with someone I used to tutor and then stopping and visiting the woman who makes things out of plastic straws (who by the way could not stop kissing me on the cheek and thanking me for coming and giving her some black straws), I went to buy some school supplies for the classroom. It's a new room so there is very little in the way of supplies. I brought in the supplies today and then joined the staff on a prayer walk of the school.
Will you join us in praying for the school? Here are the pictures and explanations so that you can pray along with us.
Joining hands in the cafeteria
Pray for chapels held here, that children's hearts would be touched for God

Praying outside the Middle School block
Pray for these children during these tough years and living in such an international environment

Terri (Admin Assistant), Laura (Elementary Principal), Lisa (Secondary Principal)
Pray that these hardworking women have the stamina to make it through! 

Praying outside the NEW High School block
Pray that the students might not succumb to the pressures of this world as they go on to graduate and leave the protection and care of Heritage

Josh (the chaplain) reading some verses for the school
Pray that Josh and Lisa Fish will be able to reach the youth for the Lord!

Vincent (PE) and Dayo (Library) focused
Pray that these men will be positive influences on the students here!

Laura (Music) praying
Pray for Laura as she ministers through music with the children

Abbey praying for her husband's ministry on the field
Pray for safety on the pitch and that all who come to compete are aware of the Holy Spirit's presence

out on the field (new elementary classrooms being added on the left in the background)
Pray that these amazing workers will share the love of Christ wherever they go!

Michelle praying
Pray for unity among the staff 

Outside the Elementary block- Library in background
Pray for the ministry in the Library and media area

Daniel and Annabel outside the Elementary block
Pray that these early years of true comprehension may be a blessing

Annabel (UK), Delight (US), Terri (Canada), Kate (Uganda)
Pray that as each person is away from their 'home' they may be comforted and blessed

Praying outside the Early Years block
Pray that each child and their entire family will see how evident God is here

Praying for the Chapel and the construction there. 
Pray that it gets done by Christmas! It hasn't changed much in the 6 years since I first came.

Beautiful Rhona (Head of Early Years)
Pray for these tough teachers who have been here since the beginning!

Praying outside the Administration Building
Pray that each person who walks onto this campus is ministered to by these great people.

Mr. Bahati, Sylvia and Dave focused and praying

I love the diversity! from L to R: The Netherlands, US, Finland, Armenia, Uganda, Canada, UK

Thanks for joining us on a prayer walk of the school! Please keep praying with me for this amazingly special place!

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ~Philippians 4:6-7 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"I have no fear of drowning, it's the breathing that's taking all this work" -Jars of Clay

A few people have been asking for more details on the ministry side of things here.
Due to child protection laws, I am not able to take pictures of the children that I work with and post them on here directly. Hence why most of the pictures I've put up are of scenery or items. As one who used to strive to photo-journalize stories, this has been hard for me to tell the stories of my daily interactions at the school.  So...let's play a little game. Paint the following pictures of my yesterday in your head :)

7:00am Alarm. Time to get up and get ready for another chance to glorify God. Take bread for breakfast.

8:15am Show some of the new teachers staying on my compound how to walk to the boda stage. Teach them the basics of boda riding, pricing and safety. Hire bodas to drive us all down to Heritage International School.

8:30am After warmly greeting everyone in the office (including a woman who has worked at the school, but been on leave in her village, and was shocked and thrilled to see me) find a place to plug in the computer. I soon discover that the printer has not been plugged in or turned on. Find the tech guy to attach missing plug to printer. Print off tons of Reading Comprehension worksheets. Wander around campus to find one of the men with the keys to open the classroom I've been working in.

9:00am Find Child 1 sitting on the veranda of the office. Walk with said child to the classroom. This child is a native english speaker, but due to learning disabilities has really struggled with reading. It's been a challenge to know how to best teach an almost teenager who is unable to remember how to read the word "I". We work together on phonics and letter sounds and letter directions. This child has an amazing heart, is sweet beyond belief, loves to help people, and really longs to understand things.

10:00am Bid Child 1 good-bye and go to the office to get some tea. It is cold. I meander around campus hoping my next students will show up. Return to classroom to work.

10:30am Call parents of Child 2 & 3 to inquire after their whereabouts. We don't have a contact for Child 4 and are unable to find out where they are. Child 2 & 3 quickly show up. I've taught their younger sister in Grade 1 a few years ago, so I know the family and their struggles. English is not their first language and the father is gone most of the year working in another country. The mother does not speak English and has babies to care for. Both children have left their homework at home. Isn't it so true that the students who need to most help are the hardest to help? Read with Child 2 while Child 3 is working on a Reading Comprehension worksheet to increase his understanding of the main idea and point of the story. Then listen to Child 3 read aloud to increase his fluency and expression while Child 2 goes over a worksheet to improve his vocabulary.

11:00am Ask Child 2 & 3 to sit at the office and wait for their ride. Pick up Child 5 at the playground. Child 5 is young and closer to the age group that I am accustomed to working with. The parent in the picture is incredibly supportive and eager to figure out what is going on with the child. We work on reading and writing simple words and learning phonics blends. A lot of the time is spent on re-focusing and trying to get the child ready for a classroom setting. Such a cutie!

I also tutor Child 6 on other days. This child is quite a bit older, but missed out on key learning in early years. I don't know the whole story, but I can imagine it's quite long and complicated. Child 6 is newly adopted and has had an incredibly tough life, but is eager to learn and optimistic about life! I work with this teen on phonics and building vocabulary.

12:00pm Drop Child 5 off at the playground. Work on finding more worksheets for the next day. Occupy Child 2 & 3 some while they still have not been picked.

1:00pm Call a boda to come to school. Make sure the office is aware of Child 2 & 3 still being around. Ride home with Godfrey, the boda driver. Run into the house to drop my bag and pick up straws. As I start to leave the electrician shows up. Follow him to the inverter. Power still off. Discussion about how visitors dried hair in the morning when power was off and disrupted the inverter. Informing the electrician that they thought it necessary due to the Buganda (the main tribe) culture needing to have dry hair when out in public. Electrician repairs inverter. Leave house on boda. Direct Godfrey the way to the Kinawataka Women's Initiative to visit Benedicta and the women and children affected by HIV who make things out of plastic drinking straws to provide income (check out their work here).

1:45pm Arrive at the Kinawataka Women's Initiative. Discover Benedicta is not around. Get her phone number and call her. Explain who I am and she eventually remembers. Inform her that I've brought the black straws she asked for from America. Decide to talk with people there for a bit, place an order to help them out and set up to return next week when I know Benedicta will be around.

3:00pm Home at last. Hungry. Make lunch without power. Consume lunch in peace on a couch and front door wide open, breeze blowing the curtains. Susan arrives and starts working. Get out my ukulele to play some worship songs and have some Jesus time on the veranda.

4:00pm Hear water running at back of house. Go back to water tower to turn the handle to shut off water. Discuss how the pump and mechanism are broken with the guard.

4:30pm I pick up my book One Thousand Gifts to read outside. Susan leaves, not having time to tutor today due to things she needs to do at home. Perhaps Wednesday? Usually during our tutoring sessions we start off by going over some lists of words to work on knowing. Then do what is called an Language Experience Story (LES), where she tells me a short story and I write it down. Then we go over what she has dictated and slowly read it. We pick out a few words together for her to memorize- words that she uses in her everyday vocabulary and will be applicable to her. Then we work on some phonics. We go back periodically to the lists of words. And we read a story. She is delighted that she can figure out a word if she wants to.

4:45pm Talk to housemates about day. Get to know a few of the new teachers better and discuss Ugandan culture.

Every afternoon is different for me. It might mean me going to a babies home orphanage to simply hold a 2 month old child that is less than 5 pounds or play with a 1 year-old longing for attention. Today I went and stopped by the tailor to give her some business and get a few things made. Thursday I'll be taking pictures for some missionaries to use on their prayer card.

In the evenings I stay inside at home. 1st- there are mosquitoes outside. Malaria=not good. 2nd- it's not safe to be wandering the streets after dark. 3rd- I am usually exhausted. There are exceptions. The olympics have been on recently and I've gotten to go to another family's home to watch a few times, thankfully with a ride both directions.

Unable to visualize all of that? Pole sana (sorry very much in swahili). Perhaps this picture I took of a dried up dead little critter outside of my classroom one morning will aid you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Lord, I'm amazed by you..." -Amazed, learned it at worship night, originally by Phillips, Craig & Dean

I entered the new Friday Market area with high hopes of seeing people that I had come to know as friends in the time that I lived in Uganda. I love exploring. I'm a curious person naturally. So getting to come to Friday Market was a treat for me at the end of a long work week. I would wander the rows searching for creative and beautifully handcrafted items. I don't think there was ever a time when I did not see something that I thought genius. The people here don't have much, but what they do have, they make much of!

Over the years I got to know some of the vendors of the stalls at Friday Market. Certain people were always very friendly or always thinking of some new design. I would check with Judith and Annette to see if they had what I was searching for before purchasing from another tent. I would stop by and see the two jajas (grandmas) selling paper beads before considering the other places- one woman was very friendly and had great prices and the other one had a new design with different materials every time I came. So it was no real surprise to me when I started slowly going from tent to tent when I heard in the distance, "Is that Jean?!" I moved my head around searching for the mouth to whom the words belonged. I soon found Judith's face and saw her climbing over her stock to greet me. I side stepped along the end of tarps and embraced a friendly hug. She went on for a bit explaining how she thought she saw me but didn't believe it, asked after how my parents and cousin were, questioned where my friends were and what they were doing, and what I was doing back in Uganda. We enjoyed a bit of time catching up and I bid her goodbye, ensuring her that I would be back again before returning to the US. I was able to find both of my bead ladies, and both of them said to me, "Eh! You are lost!" Here in Uganda that means that you have gone a long time without seeing each other.

When I got around to finding Annette's new station she exclaimed, "Is that really Jean? Let me see your ring!" (I put forward my left hand) "It is you!" Annette was always a fan of my 3-in-1 ring. Another person recently remarked on the ring I wear on my "wedding finger". One of the guys at dinner after STUDiO_10's Worship Night pointed to my ring and asked me, "How is your husband?" I laughed and told him that God was great. I took off my ring and held it in the air to show him the symbol that can be found in the middle - the trinity symbol. I told him that there is a verse in Isaiah (54:5 if you want the reference) that says, "For your Maker is your husband--the LORD Almighty is his name..." This guy had a lot of questioning looks and words. "So you don't want to get married?" I explained that I do, but that God is the most important thing in my life, and the ring helps me to remember that. He still said that it scares away men when I wear it, but I told him that the man I marry is going to have to be brave enough to go through God to get to me.

I love the honest conversations I can have with people here. It's not uncommon for a mzungu (white person) to get followed, but Ugandans talk to each other so freely as well. When a past Heritage student, and current friend, and I trekked up the rocks at the quarry, there were lending hands along the way. One man pulled up my friend through the thicket (I was stubborn and am now suffering from a thorn in my finger). Another young lady decided to lead us to the top of the hill and show the view of the lake. I had been there several times before, but paths change and she was insistent. She was super friendly and we had some good conversation. I showed her how to make noise from my ukulele. She asked me why I play. "For a record? For yourself?" she inquired. I responded simply - "I play for God." It really is so easy to find ways to bring up God in conversations. At least it is for me here...

As I was walking to school the other morning, I stopped and snapped a photo of a morning glory. A woman was passing as I did so and started asking me if I liked flowers. We walked the red roads together as I told her about how it's necessary to take in the little things in life and to enjoy all that God has created.

I'm looking forward to more interesting conversations in my last 3 weeks here...and looking forward to learning from our Creator how to incorporate God more and more into the random chats in the US when I return.

Here's an interesting quote from the book I am currently reading, One Thousand Gifts:
"Whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see it's Him and not the thing? ...God is Beauty who demands worship, passion and the sacrifice of a life, for He owns it. Do I have eyes to see His face in all things so I'm not merely dazzled by the trinket, glitzy bauble dangling for the ogling, till it flakes and breaks and I strain for more to lie prostrate before?" ~Ann Voskamp
The sweeter side...


making sprouts for protein

making the best of being followed

when life gives you lemons

mesmerized massai 

what happens when you give your sunday school students the camera

taking in morning glories

God's beauty all around