Monday, July 27, 2009

Where are the greener pastures? You [Christ] are my greener pastures –David Crowder

 Guards here in Uganda are kind of essential for people who live in actual homes, especially if you are a foreigner. I’ve had lots of them pass through my compound over the past year. From what I know it is due to the small amount that they are paid by the land lord. I can’t imagine what our guard gets paid. People quitting over a small amount being paid is a pretty big deal here. They are grateful for any job, and even the lowest of the normal amount that guards are paid is pretty dirt dirt cheap. The guard that we have now has been here for several months. I don’t know much about him, besides the fact that he is from the DRC and speaks Kiswahili and French. Neither of which language I am any good at…so hence the lack of knowledge. Along with him is his wife and what seems to be a 3 year old boy living with him. The set up for him is actually not that bad in terms of how housing goes for guards- he’s got a bedroom with a big bed in it (that’s all that’s in there I think), a room on the other side of the house-like structure where a refrigerator is held and there are some stools, then around the back of our apartments is an outhouse with a drop toilet and a bathing room. It may not seem like home to you or I, but it’s not all that bad. However, the wife does not have a job either. I’m guessing that they are refugees here- at least that was the story of my last Congolese guard.

I feel bad for them and wonder how much they are actually eating. The only time I ever see them eat is late at night sitting outside of their house on the ground with a little coal stove things and a pot. It’s really not that uncommon for people to only be able to afford one meal a day here. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when I feel like I can do something about it.  The hard part about that is what happens when I leave. I mean, while I’m here I can go out once a week and bring them back some bread, blue band (like butter), sugar and some soap, but once I’m gone, they are stuck again. And then…that is what they will come to expect, and won’t be able to find it. I know one woman in a village who worked for a mzungu that paid much higher than the normal house worker (and more than a normal person could afford here), then the mzungu left and since then she has not found a job because her standards have been raised and won’t accept less. I don’t want that to become true for my guard and his family. So, when I do bring back food it is sparatic and a surprise. Tonight I came back from a dinner with a team that is here to build for a school out on the island we work on, and I had some extra cornbread. So, when I came into the apartment I went to the kitchen, pulled out a napkin and placed the 3 remaining pieces on the red paper. As I walked outside to give it to them my mind scrambled to think of the words in either French or Swahili to convey the message of what this odd thing was that I was handing over. All I could come up with (as usual) was a mix of the two languages-“Bonjour, pour tu, maize…karibu sana, la la salama” A rough translation is “Hello, for you, corn…you are very welcome, peace sleep well”. Yeah…not the best, I know. When I steped out my door and closed it behind me so the mosquitoes wouldn’t seep in, I noticed that they were not eating. Now, I’m not sure if they have already eaten their meal, or are going to eat it later (people generally eat dinner here around 9:30ish at night). As I walked over the man sat up from his prostrate position on the gravel with child and reached out his hands while his wife got up from her stool to kneel and extend her own arms, as is the traditional way to receive. To give you some what of a better idea of these people…I’m guessing that the parents are younger than me. One of the pieces of corn bread slipped out onto the rocks below as I handed it over to the gentleman. Instantly the little boy picked it up and started saying repeatedly “asante, asante sana (thank you, thank you very much)” over and over and over and over again and stuffed the crumbling morsels into his mouth.

Sometimes life here becomes normal. Then there are moments like this that makes you beg and sit here dialoging with God about the best thing to do. Sometimes I wonder if there is an answer.

I know that people are hungry here right now. Especially in the northern part of Uganda, spread all across where there is drought which has lead to famine. Arua has not had a good rain fall since September of last year! It’s one thing if people are going hungry because they are too lazy to plant (which is the case sometimes), but quite another when there is not enough rain to plant, so the cycle continues. Then if you factor in the fact that the World Food Program has deserted the people they have been helping in Soroti & Gulu to move to the Karamajong area boardering Kenya, it gets complicated. I was told just yesterday that some people who have $300/month jobs are quitting because they see they can get free food. Please pray for rain. Pray with me that as God is seeking out the hearts of his children in Uganda that he would fill their stomachs as well. May God give us wisdom in sharing our blessings! 

Friday, July 24, 2009

525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?

As of today, I have lived in Uganda for one year. While that may not seem like long to some career missionaries who’ve been around for over 20 years, it is a significant amount of time. 365 days away from my parents and family. 8760 hours missing dear friends. 525,600 minutes without Smartfood white cheddar popcorn (I know, an odd craving that came to me randomly). 31,536,000 seconds lacking high speed internet as you know it.
On the other end of it…that has also been 31,536,000 seconds with the simple eyebrow raise to say “yes”. 525,600 minutes with uniquely creative minds. 8760 hours with irreplaceable children. 365 days of God revealing His wonder in new ways.
Half way through! Wow. I’ve done so much, but there is also SO much left to come. This year will be completely different from what I can tell already. I’ll be continuing to work at Heritage as a 1st grade teacher, living in the same apartment, tutoring people, etc. However, many of the people around me will be different: new 1st graders, new roommate and some new teachers, and the prospect of even some new minds to tutor. I’ll still see many of the children I taught last year sitting up smart in their 2nd grade room with Ms. Margaret, stay in touch with my friends from this past year, and continue tutoring and mentoring people of many different tribes and even nationalities.
The prospect of a new year is an exciting one. I’m ready to get back to work with 5 and 6 year olds. There is such an innocence to their moldable minds. I’ve been slowly preparing as I’ve got a few random teaching help books with games, lessons, dramas and activities to look through and plan out. This has gotten me more excited as I will get into my classroom this coming week to actually clean and set up!
Over the past 2 months I’ve done quite a bit of moving around. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Germany again, meeting my cousin Elizabeth there and traveling across Italy and Spain with her. What an AMAZING BLESSING, which I have yet to share about in detail, brought to me by a gift from a relative. I’ve been at my apartment in Kampala delving not only into 1st grade curriculums (making math games from index cards) for the up and coming year, but also getting into the word of God and stories that have revealed Him to me in new ways. I’ve gotten into my classroom a few times to work randomly, continued tutoring, and have showed some passers-through around this city. I also took a bus out with a friend to visit another cousin, Sarah, who is working in Western Uganda. While I was only gone for 5 days, I had a wonderful time seeing the hospital, living in a small home with a trek up the hill to the squat toilet, and fellowshipping with Sarah’s host family. The land out there is absolutely breathtaking. This past weekend I was up in Northern Uganda in the city of Arua where some great people, Billy and Joanna Coppedge, live. They are fellow missionaries with WGM. They recently had a new little girl, and Billy ventured into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for an exploratory trip. So, while this was probably the last chance for me to see Arua while they are there, I took the opportunity to help out Joanna with her two beautiful girls, Elsie Jayne and Lucy Mae, both under the age of two. This was also a sweet time of being out of the hustle and bustle of the city and getting to see another side of WGM ministry in Uganda. Joanna is great to bounce ideas off of, so we had many good conversations as we hung out with the girls. I’ve really missed the sight of majestic mountains and the sound of a clear trickling brook living in the city, so this summer has been so refreshing for that!
All of that to say, while I have had a wonderful summer of seeing new things and ministering in ALL sorts of ways, I am ready for the school year to begin. Please pray with me as I get ready that I would be open and prepared for whatever is coming my way as a new term begins.
How has God been ministering to you in these summer months? For that matter, this past year?! I’d love to hear from you all on how this past year has been for you, and what new exciting things are coming up in the next year!
Here’s a quick verse that has touched my heart the past few weeks:
“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” –Zephaniah 3:17
Praying you realize this is true in your life!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Let me take your picture, add it to the mixture, here it is I got you now- Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem (The Muppet Show)

The photographer in me has been discovered. In the past few months I have been asked to take pictures for lots of people in all sorts of situations. 
I’ve taken pictures for (sorry if the pictures are messed up or out of order!) a band made up of missionaries,
for a bunch of Ugandan musicians putting together a professional recording,

for a Ugandan worship music studio,

family shots for missionary prayer cards,high school graduation,

lots of youth group events,
Heritage School events and evenWorld Gospel Mission events.

Here is Michael, a baby that is being adopted by some friends of WGM here :) 

Whew. It has kept me busy, but I sure have enjoyed it all the while. It gives me the opportunity to get to know more people, develop better photography skills and also to give something to people that they would not have had otherwise. So, while I’m still building up trust in our churches to take pictures of families, my photography skills are not being neglected.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

If you give love, I’ll return the love and you will see so much more than you gave away- Third Day

The last few weeks of this school year were bitter sweet. There was so much change. I had a wonderful time with the children. The end of 1st grade is such an amazing time. Over the past year they learned SO much! Most of them can now read at an appropriate speed and subtract numbers without using their fingers! It’s really rewarding to remember back to when they first came and some of them didn’t even know their letters to seeing them currently reading 60 words a minute! They did a great job for their last chapel, singing songs like “He’s my rock, my sword, my shield…”, “There were 12 Disciples”, and Alphabet bible song that was sung on a Psalty tape where they memorized lots of bible verses! I had gotten so attached to those kids over the past year that it was VERY hard for me to say goodbye. I tried holding back the tears until they were all gone, but the tears started flowing as the 3rd from last child was giving me the final ‘hand shake, hi-five, or hug’. Those last 3 I will probably never see again, as they are moving on, and it just broke my heart. I’ve really grown to love these kids as I’ve gotten to know them and their ways. Luckily my cousin Sarah was visiting me before she went off to work in a Hospital in western Uganda so I had a shoulder to cry on. I will continue praying for those kids for a long time to come. Please pray with me that they will continue to follow Jesus as they go onto Grade 2 and new challenges in their lives.
I would also love for you to start praying with me for the incoming Grade 1 class. I am a bit intimidated as there are around 14 boys and 3 girls. Yikes! There is no way to place the rowdy boys next to all the girls this time. We’ve still got a month before school starts, but it’s never too early to start praying for something!

In no man’s land, no ones to blame-Gomez

The very first time that I can remember walking in No Man’s Land was 3 years ago when me and a few others snuck across the boarder to Kenya for a minute and then walked back. I remember clearly thinking about what no man’s land was, how cool it was to be where no one ruled me but God, and what would happen if something terrible went wrong here. I would assume that in this culture, a lynching would happen right then and there…mob justice. But it has often intrigued me.
Anyway, so for Spring Break this year, my two best buddies here and I went to Kenya the cheapest way we could…and loved it!
I can’t really sum it up too well, but I can give you an idea of what you did, then send you in the direction of my facebook albums from the trip to get a better idea. There you will find captions with the pictures too.
We took a bus to Nairobi which left at 7am and took 13 hours, arriving in Nairobi at 8pm with a driver there waiting for us. Luckily, World Gospel Mission has a big presence in Kenya- they started there almost 100 years ago! So, we got picked up and taken to a missionaries home to stay. In the morning we got picked up by the Duncans, the East Africa directors and dear dear people! They took us to the big Africa Gospel Church in Nairobi. That was really neat. One thing I really enjoyed about that church was at the end of the service, they had everyone stand up, then ask the visitors to stand up and walk to the back of the church to go meet the greeters. We did so, then they brought us up to a room where they had prepared tea for us specially! We all sat around and talked and just had great sweet fellowship with all different sorts of people! There was even a woman who had just become a Christian and her husband and children were still Muslim. Her husband didn’t know yet and she was moving up to be with him out in the bush in Sudan. She needs prayer. People do not respond well to things like that and she will not have much support out there.
From there the Duncans took us out to lunch, then to a Maasi Mara (that is the tribe that jumps so high and wears the red blankets with a big stick) market to do some souvenir shopping. Boy is stuff expensive in Kenya! One of the Duncan’s children took us from there to buy train tickets for the following day. That night we went out to eat with Robin, the sweet missionary that we stayed with, at Java House. That place is known for it’s coffee, but it had some wonderful hot chocolate too ☺ The following day we hung out and walked around and went to the Nakumat! Now that was culture shock…and they are opening one here! It’s like a Walmart, but more expensive. We got some great groceries to take with us on the train, then went early to the station. We got in a 2nd class sleeper car and readied ourselves for the supposed 12 hour journey to Mombassa. It really lasted 17 hours! But it was worth it by the time we got to see the beautiful Indian Ocean! I slept pretty well all strapped in on the top bunk, but Lacey and Christina did not do so well. We got a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle powered rickshaw that can fit 3 people) to the ferry. Stopped by Nakumat there to get some more food then got another tuk-tuk across to Amani Acre-a missionary guest house run by Africa Inland Mission. It was beautiful there. We stayed in a low key simple apartment right by the water for real cheap and even had a guard watch us when we were on the beach so that not too many men would bother us! It’s dangerous showing your knees in East Africa…all the men want to marry you! The next morning I woke up crazy early to watch the sunrise over the water. Oh wow was it beautiful! Such a gift from God after the crazy stressful testing that I had the previous week at school.I got lots of neat photos then went back to sleep for a bit. When we all got up we got a ride to the south side of Mombassa to go to a resort for the day. For only $5 we got to spend the day at a beautiful resort by the Indian Ocean with a swimming pool…and camels on the beach! That was on of Christina’s items on what I would call a bucket list- Ride a Camel. Check! The water there was so warm, it felt like I was in tea water. It was also clear so that I was not too afraid to swim in it…that is until the tide came in. So that day we got to just relax and swim in the pool and the Indian ocean and ride camels and then I searched for treasures in the sand ☺
Then we went back to the apartment and found the power out. So we put on the water to boil while we sat outside reading aloud to each other. We kept going into check on it. This was the longest time ever that it has taken to boil water…almost an hour!!!!! Eventually we got pasta cooked and ate by flashlight. The next morning we checked out and went to get bus tickets back to Nairobi for the night bus. We left our bags at the station and wandered throughout the town of Mombassa. Not the most interesting place to be quite honest. There’s only one sight seeing thing and other wise little restaurants. We went to go see if we could see a movie at the theatre, but there was only one movie playing that night when we would be gone. So we wandered around inside the Nakumats and Mr. Price shop and checked e-mail at an internet cafĂ©. The night bus back was quite an experience! One that is preferably not repeated. Comfortable enough if you know the person sitting next to you. Otherwise you might wind up with an asleep mans hand under your bottom in the middle of the night. And it was SO hot at first, then SO cold. But, we made it back to Nairobi safely, and that is what counts! We got picked up and brought to drop off our bags at Robins and to wash up again before going to Nakumat for some food then going on a real African adventure! We first went to the feeding of the orphaned baby elephants and rhinos. Too cute! Then we went to the giraffe center where there is an endangered type of giraffe that used to live only in Uganda, but no more. That was an adventure in and of itself! We put food pellets in-between our lips and the giraffe could come and get it! So in essence, I kind of kissed a giraffe!!!! Then we went to Nairobi National Park for a safari. It’s the cheapest one around, and oddly enough, within the city limits! So, there are lions in Nairobi. Look out. That was beautiful. It was just amazing to be able to sit on the roof of the car and snap away with my camera. I loved just sitting and watching the Zebras. We didn’t see any of the cats (Lions/Leopards) but we got to see some neat things and enjoy the backdrop.
The next day we ventured back to Kampala on the 13 hour bus. While I loved Kenya with it’s donkeys, sheep, and Indian Ocean, I was happy to get home. From this trip I have concluded that Uganda is the friendliest and cheapest country in East Africa…I do love it here!