Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I don't care to much for money, money can't buy me love -Beatles

A few weeks ago I finally attended a Wedding Meeting for friends at KIU. I'd been asked countless times to go to one of these weekly meetings for several different people I've known getting married here. In Kenyan culture at least, people in the community give money to couples to pay help them pay for their weddings. Because people are here in University, they don't really have neighbors from their village giving as much. So, there's a wedding committee at our church! It's actually a really neat idea. People help each other out so much here. They help them make arrangements, and they organize transportation for people to travel to the wedding and where people will stay, etc. I'd honestly been avoiding the meetings, not knowing what to expect. I finally went one week and was SO pleasantly surprised. I had a blast! Incredibly confused at first, but thankfully one of my friends was sitting next to me happily explaining what was going on. It felt more like a sort of auction than a meeting...but there wasn't anything being auctioned. First off, the seats were full, but someone said "I will sell my seat for 500UGX (~$0.25)" as I was walking up. They told me to sit down and put 500UGX in the bag that was going around. People kept calling out what seemed like nonsense to me. Things like "minus 1kUGX (~$0.50) Becky's account" and "give me 200UGX (~$0.10) to feel if there's anything inside of this box". Basically it's just a time to goof around in a fun way to raise money for someone's wedding. I finally figured most of it all out, and decided to give it a try. I called over the moderator and told him that I was putting in 1kUGX for everyone to stand up. Luckily Harrison did not announce that I was the one who did it (though my friend Ivy was the one who told me that was one thing that people do say) because people were not too happy that they all had to stand up. In order to sit down, they all had to pay 200UGX. Ivy looked at me and said something like "who did that???" I just stared at her and finally she figured it out. HA. By the end of the night I was just sitting there cracking up at the things that people were saying and doing. On the way out they just ask that you would give whatever you want into the bag. That way it's much more secretive as to who gave what, which I very much appreciate as a person who strives to not let my left hand know what my right hand is doing. If on the off chance you ever have the chance to attend one of these meetings, I would highly suggest doing so. It's great entertainment and you are not put out too much.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"It feels like chaos, somehow there's peace" -Sanctus Real

This past weekend a group of teachers from Heritage loaded a van to the brim to venture into the bush. Literally, I walked through the bush- they even called it that! The reason? We were asked by a local pastor to go to his village. While there, we encouraged a local women's group (mostly widows or HIV+), preached in church, visited homes, fetched water and carried it back on our heads, played with the children, and trained some nursery school teachers. At the school there are 78 students and 2 teachers! And these are not teenagers. We're talking about 2 year olds who still have not been potty trained nor do they have the ability to talk. Grant it, there are many who can talk and are well on their way to knowing how to add. We helped them teach on Monday and figured out how we could best help them. Afterwards the HIS teachers met and discussed ideas, then two of us went and sat down with Florence and Tollo. It was tough trying to explain to them things that they had never heard of before, such as lesson plans and timetables. We were right down to the basics for these teachers who never even finished High School. By the end of our 2 1/2 hour meeting we had successfully gone through most of the subjects that needed to be covered. The next day was a test: would they be able to make it? Somehow...that's a common phrase here that's hard to translate the exact meaning. Honestly, I can't imagine a time without using that word now. One of the teachers did fantastically while the other one continued to struggle greatly. It's hard to really break ground in two days. There isn't much more that we could have expected. Only that we did what we could and brought them school supplies. Some of the other teachers painted wood with chalkboard paint, some played football with the new one we bought, others watched in awe as the kids jumped through the ropes we brought with us. There's a lot more that still needs to be done, but it was a good start.
One night while we slept on the hard cement floor, the soft rain pitter-pattered on the tin roof above our heads. Though the floor below was causing some discomfort, the sound of the rain brought peace to my heart. It was so quiet! Quite the opposite of what I'm hearing right now with a church service bellowing outside of my window. I'm used to the hustle of the city, my heart aches for peace. It may not seem like the most restful trip, and it was very overwhelming at times, but peace was restored.

At the same time that I was in the village enjoying the peace and quiet, my dear friends at KIU were being caned. The school has decided to hike up the fees for people who pay late. Every two weeks late, there's an additional $30. Now that might not seem like much to you, but to someone who is barely able to pay their school fees, $90 for being 6 weeks late is A LOT! So, the students took action and rioted. The highest level of military showed up to break up the rioters and push back the people who had stopped traffic on the main road by hurling rocks at cars. As the rioters retreated, some went and hid inside of the hostels (like dorms) where my friends live. The military followed them in with tear gas bombs and big sticks. Anyone who was found in the hostel was caned and told to get out. Luckily my friends were able to escape quickly and only got caned a few times. They ran out into the street and fled to their friends homes to stay. Since then, no one has spent the night in the hostel. They are all still scared that something will happen. I only learned of this today when I showed up and waited outside of my friends room in that hostel for bible study, only to learn that no one was there. Eventually another friend came by and took me to her room. She had come to get a change of clothes. She explained to me that this was her first time in this type of situation and as we walked the stairs going out of the hostel she explained how she still envisioned the men in black suits of armor were running and hitting them. There is 'peace' now, but people are still seriously fearing remaining in the hostel for the night. There is no resolution to the problem and people are still keeping it a secret whether or not people died. Rumors come up so quickly in these instances. Alas, Bible Study was canceled today, and tomorrow we are venturing off to Camp for a few days, so there will be a time for peace in their hearts. Please pray for these students. Pray that their school fees would come through so that they wouldn't need to fret about overdue fees. Pray for peace...I guess I could say that about so much of the world. I know that in Ecclesiastes we are told that there's a time for everything under heaven..."a time for war and a time for peace." In the states people don't experience war in their homeland, and they are so blessed for that. It's unavoidable here. My friends had nothing to do with those riots, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our world is full of differences, and so many of them are good, but I fear the extremes.

I feel like that so much here, like I am caught between two extremes. There's the obvious differences: color, food, class, etc. But there's so much more at a deeper level. It makes me wonder what God is doing inside of my heart. The song that goes with this title of this entry says: "Time to make right what has been wronged, it's time to find my way to where I belong. There's a wave that's crashing over me and all I can do is surrender. Whatever you're doing inside of me, it feels like chaos, somehow there's peace. It's hard to surrender what I can't see, but I'm giving into something Heavenly. Time for a milestone, time to begin again, reevaluate who I really am. Am I doing everything to follow your will or just climbing aimlessly over these hills? So show me what it is you want from me. I give everything...you're up to something bigger than me...something heavenly."
God is our peace. Even when we feel like we are surrounded by chaos, we can find peace. All we have to do is surrender to him. It's a great reminder, even on a daily basis when we come to small battles. We MUST just give it over to God, and he will bring peace. I pray that He brings peace not only to my friends at KIU or the teachers who struggle with 70+ students, but to you as well. He knows what best, and he will bring us peace. Praise HIM!

Monday, October 4, 2010

I can't see living without you-Sanctus real

I sit here trying to rack my brain as to what I should blog about from the past 2 1/2 months. Do I talk about the tiny cockroaches crawling on my leg on a bus up to Northern Uganda? How about climbing a volcano with my brother? Or what about that time I took a night bus all the way to Kenya for one day to attend a wedding? Then there's the soccer match in which Uganda beat Angola 3-0! The most recent weekend adventure with a bunch of my KIU friends to an orphanage to wash clothes and dishes with Mama Mary as she cares for 38 orphans by herself? I'm starting to sound like I don't do any work...there's also the delightfully diverse snacks that my kids bring to class from sushi to sausages. Obviously I could go on, my life here is one adventure after adventure. That's not to say that these adventures don't come without challenges...they sure do! This school year has brought new challenges that I could not have even imagined possible. But with those hard times comes blessing as well. My walk to and from school is hilly, but perfectly beautiful, you see so much more when walking! The mosquitoes in this house are horrid creatures, but I am so thankful for the abundant trees in this yard! My class size has increased to 22, but thankfully I don't have any students who speak no English what-so-ever. I miss having Miss Agnes around to talk to and the wonderful teacher that she was (she's coming back in December after a maternity leave) but I'm learning so much about a completely different culture from my current teaching assistant from Armenia!
Through it all there's been a renewed sense of dependence on God. There's no way that I could have made it all of this way without him, and every morning comes the re-focusing of my mind on HIM. And every night as I bring a bag full of work home to do, I am reminded of how much there is to be done, not only for my classroom, but in the entire world around me!
Hopefully I'll be inspired very soon to write a much more detailed blog post on my life here, but in the meantime, if you care for more detail on any of the above stories, don't hesitate to ask ;)

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Lead me with strong hands...don't leave me hungry for love chasing dreams...Father show me the way to lead them..." ~Sanctus Real

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a church with my bible open to Romans and some verses caught my eye. "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Romans 10:14-15

There are still so many people who have not heard! Just this past month I met someone who said, "So Jesus is the son of God?" I've been making an effort recently to see people who are not following God as someone with a huge weight on their shoulders. They haven't allowed Jesus to come and share their burdens with them. I'm reminded of a great sermon I heard in Kampala by a visiting pastor. There was this great visual of people literally being tied to each other and having to move around with dead bodies being attached to their backs. I wish I remembered it better, but it was based on history. Jesus came and lifted those huge bodies off of our backs so that we would not have to bear them. How amazing it is to have someone HUGE share that burden with us!
As I prepare to leave tomorrow to go back to Uganda, I think about how it might be easier to see the burdens of the people there because of the poverty, but examining the heart is just as hard to do, and I am so glad that God is the one who does that! Sometimes with Americans it can be hard to see the burdens that are weighing them down. They seem to have so much. But the past 2 months in America have helped to show me in a new light that there is so much need here too! People always think of America as being this safety net, once you get here you're fine. Well...not so. The rich may be able to feed their children, but they can't seem to feed their own souls. And there are plenty of poor people here too. The poor are always with us, as Jesus said.
I want to encourage you to reach out to those around you, to all types of poor people. Poor in heart, poor is spirit, poor in funds...and help them to become rich in faith and love God. Those are the ones who get to inherit the kingdom of heaven as James 2 tells us. You don't have to be traveling thousands of miles to be reaching people. Start where you are. God is sending YOU to share, because after all, "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"So this is home" ~ Switchfoot

Another e-mail I just sent out:

“He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” ~ Psalm 147:4-7

Plans change. Sometimes too fast for us to process them. 2 weeks ago today I walked off the plane from Uganda to go straight to a viewing. Although I didn’t get to say goodbye to my grandmother in person, it was SO needed for me to be here during that time for me to process things and say goodbye to the amazing person that she was. Sure, it’s been overwhelming at times, with all of that and culture shock flowing in, but I am constantly reminded by our great creator how much he loves us. Our heavenly father loves us more than we can fathom, and it’s so beautiful.

The night before I left Uganda, as I was heading into my apartment I glanced out at the stars one last time. The first constellation I saw? The southern cross! Living on the equator is a great privilege in the sense that you get to see parts of both of the hemispheres constellations. There are other times when I have seen the northern cross. Coming from NJ however, and being in the northern hemisphere I’ve come to treasure the sight of the southern cross. It was a beautiful sight that brought a joyful smile to my stressed face. The next night as I flew over Greece I looked up from the city lights below me to see another very familiar constellation, Cassiopeia. I’ve always loved the shape of Cassiopeia and how easy it is to find. I was in awe of how vast his creation was and how even from a plane high above the non-existent clouds I could look out and get a new view of that constellation…right next to me (at least seemingly so).

God has also been right next to me this whole time, and will be so during the next month and a half in the states. It’s been so great to be with my family in the past 2 weeks and process things with them. All of this to say, I will be leaving to head back to Uganda earlier than expected since I came home early. So, I would love to get together with people before I leave JULY 27th. Please don’t hesitate to contact me, I am in New Jersey for the moment and doing a bit of traveling, including going out to Indiana for my missions 100th Anniversary Celebration at the end of June. If you’re in the area, I’d love to meet up and catch up on your life!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It’s the things that are given not won are the things that you want- Gomez

Allow me to preface this entry by saying that it is a long one, but it is also to help me remember my time North of the Nile…

A few weekends ago I went North of the Nile. That may not mean much to most of you, but if you’ve ever been to Northern Uganda, you know that people say that as you cross over the Nile river, things change. While I didn’t drive, rather I flew with MAF, I could still sense an overwhelming difference. Welcome to Acholi land. Acholi is a large tribe of people who live in Northern Uganda. I’ve experienced so many amazing things in those four days that I can hardly put it into words.

We flew through dark clouds that loomed above the Nile River as we slowly approached the first stop: Gulu. This was not my final destination, but we were almost there. As you can see from other posts of mine, I LOVE rainbows. Despite the bumpy clouds due to the ominous rain, I saw SO many rainbows in that 1 ½ hour flight. Vibrant ones. Rainbows have always seemed to have more color to me here than in America, and from the sky they are even more spectacular. It makes me wonder if the people in the camps down below thought anything of them. What were they seeing? For sure they were happy for the water to come and feed the dry earth and cool down the day, but were they aware of God’s promise that was hung above them? Only He knows.

As we landed in Pader, my eyes kept searching for something: an airport. Was there one? No. Well, technically the locals say that under the big tree is the airport. In reality, it was a long airstrip made of dirt.

Upon arrival to the compound where we would be staying and working, I quickly discovered something quite astounding to me. Emmanuel International, who I was going to be serving with, was there to support The Church of Uganda, Diocese of Kitgum. God works in ways that we may never understand. Three years ago I felt such a strong calling to pursue trying to work along side the Diocese of Kitgum. Nothing had worked out…at least that’s what I thought. Here I was, in what used to be a part of Kitgum, now fully understanding so many things that I had heard spoken of at the church that I attended during University. It may not seem like any big thing, but to me, WOW…

We were welcomed in with the customary signing of the guest book, formal greetings to the staff and then right to work discussing the children’s program that we would be running. This was only interrupted by fresh chapatti with eggs & then Reverend Kenneth wanting us to meet some of the farmers that they work with. We walked into the big hall for the first time to see 4 different groups of farmers. I was happy that we had already learned the word Apwoyo (ah-foy-yo), which respectively means hello, goodbye, and thank you in Luo.

Our first adventure really came with attempting to get into ‘town’ for lunch. The car keys could not be found…so we used a small locker-like key…successfully no doubt! We made it all the way there and back perfectly. Amazing.

Lunch in town came with my first experience with Boo (B-oh), a green in a soupy sauce made of g-nuts, tomatoes and onions. Not bad at all when I worked my way around the tomatoes and onions! I rather enjoyed it with my posho (a thick grainy block of food made from corn flour or cassava (a root) flour). When we finished our food Jill wanted to snap a photo of me before they took my plate.

 I asked Jill if I had anything in my teeth, and she responded by claiming only that if I did it would make the picture better. I didn’t think to ask again until we were going back to the truck and kind stranger asked me if I had a mirror. I thought she said “no”. Turns out, I had something in my teeth. Thanks mister for pointing that out to me J

After resting a bit and reading at the compound, we hopped in the truck to head to another village to attend the Sports day for the district -a track & field event! I honestly had no idea what to expect. Upon arriving in a crowd of hundreds of children staring at us and calling out “muno (white person)” we were seated in the front row next to the man who organized the event. He is also the brother to someone who works at the mission. He was so kind to me explaining exactly how things were working. The first event we saw was the 3000 meter race. Yes, you read that right, three-thousand! They have these blocks that they clap together to start the race. He laughed hysterically when we informed him that in America at races people shoot off a gun. We all came to the same conclusion: that wouldn’t have the best effect in a land hit heavily by the LRA. He also explained to me that the woman holding up sticks at the finishing line was going to drop one each time the leader passed to count the number of laps remaining! Pretty clever. Some of the children must have been overwhelmed at the thought of running 6 more, because after only one lap they began passing out. The closest hospital is 1 hour away. There’s only 1 doctor in Pader town and some unofficial nurses. There’s no first aid anywhere. No physical trainers to slap an ice pack on a strained muscle. They just assign students to run and pull the kid off the track and walk around supporting them until they are functional again.

We also watched the 700 meter race in which kids picked bottle caps off the ground to determine which line they would start on.  Of course there was lunch unexpectedly prepared for us, which we were not able to turn down. It was 5:30pm already. It’s really rude in this culture to turn down a meal when you visit someone. We were quite full and skipped our dinner that night.

When we returned back to the compound, there was enough battery on Terry’s computer remaining for us to huddle around and watch the movie Blindside. It has such a triumphal message of a child who has nothing, but is so strong nonetheless.

As we tried to fall asleep that night we heard a much different background than usual. I’m used to hearing dogs yelping, cows mooing, chickens crowing, babies crying, cars bumping along, and a whole slew of city-like mysterious sounds. Being in Pader, a small city without a single grocery store, was quite different. The only sounds to be heard? Frogs, crickets, a noise that sounded like tiny elves building with tiny little hammers. There’s really no other way to explain that sound…it was beautiful. I’d rather fall asleep to that sound than my fan any day!

The next day I woke up at 7 am to get ready for the main event- a Children’s program that we went up there to run. By 7:30 kids were already at the gate. Jill and I decided to go out and blow bubbles at them. It was hilarious as they didn’t know how to react, then slowly realized what to do and they got so excited! I then got to work blowing up balloons and making more play-dough. Others got chairs ready for musical chairs, mixed paint for kids who may have never painted before, or laid out crayons and coloring pages. Those kids were SO quiet as they sat waiting for us. It was touching how well they listen and are so eager to learn! Jill and I co-taught the story of the Good Samaritan. Two of the big elements of “Bible storying” are reading directly from the Bible, and getting your audience to tell the story back to you. So, we got the kids involved. They acted it out as I read the story from the Bible, then we had pictures and they had to tell the story back to us. We followed by sharing a bible verse and had the huge challenge of getting tons of kids in order it! Thank God that we had an amazing translator who is in charge of the Education Department on the compound. She was so precious and did a fantastic job. One of the words that I have handily learned in different languages here is ‘come’. ‘Jangu’ in Luganda, ‘kuja’ in Swahili and now I’ve learned ‘bean’ in Luo! Knowing only 2 words in a language may not seem like much, but those two words sure got the point across when trying to tell the kids where to go.

There were lots of special moments interacting with these children. One of them would have to include meeting Jack Johnson. I cracked up when one of the few kids I asked the name of was a famous singer. He didn’t understand why I was amused and so I quickly explained why. One sad moment was when I saw a picture that a child painted of an LRA truck with a dead body on it. Despite everything that those children have seen and gone through, they are so joyful.

While the children got their porridge, the woman who is in charge of Education there expressed her gratitude. It was incredibly touching how through the barred window she explained to me how much she had learned from me and urged me to come back again to do another program. In my mind I had thought of it as a fun time to bless the kids, not realizing the impact it would have on the people who work at Pader’s Diocese of Kitgum office.

The afternoon finished with the children washing their porridge cup in the stream and laying them out on a tin roof to dry, then onto dancing! I had great fun with the children taking the most random pictures and getting them to laugh hysterically at my crazy faces (after staring at me oddly, they did join in).

We left with the staff to get lunch at the same local joint we had enjoyed the previous day, although sadly the boo was finished, as well as the sweet potatoes and posho. I stuck with the rice and beans.

We went back to the compound and rested up a bit, Jill and I working on our Bible reading and discussing the little things we picked up along the way.

That afternoon we all went to a Home dedication ceremony. I’d never been to one of these before, or seen Acholi women dance in person (though I have in War Dance- definitely a movie to check out!). The entire community gathered around this vulnerable woman to celebrate with her. She had no family, but in a way that wasn’t true, all of those people around her were her family- they were holding her up and making sure that she had a home, something she hadn’t had in years. It may not have been a home the way that Americans would think of it, but it was a place of her own. That little mud hut on the outskirts of an IDP only cost the mission $125.

 Imagine! Not being able to put down that basic amount of money for a home. Some of you may be thinking “why put up a home in an IDP camp? Aren’t they supposed to be encouraging people to go back home?” While it is true that the best choice would be to go back home, there are obstacles in the way: land disputes and water sources. 

Before the war, people had natural springs to get water- however if these are not tended to, they disappear and move. It’s a big challenge to find new sources of water. 

Not long after sitting down, some women came over, grabbed Jill and my hands and pulled us up to dance with them in their circle. It was not the easiest dance…and I don’t consider myself a dancer. Nonetheless, I was enjoying every moment and soaking it in. One old woman dancing next to me held my hand as we laughed and danced (see photo). 

I was watching carefully to find the right foot movements, but in turn wound up messing up the hips, shoulders & neck movements. It’s so intricate! You’ve got to be coordinated to do that dance! At one point the ginormous pink flag that one woman was waving got caught on my face. I kept dancing, assuming it would flow off. After about 30 seconds of trying to dance blindfolded I eventually grabbed it and moved it off, not knowing if that was alright to do.  It was, however, much easier dancing without the pink banner blinding me, though I didn’t master the dance. Walking back to our seats one woman called me over. Once I reached her I got down low to greet her, as is custom here. Upon doing so she pointed to my necklace, and then pointed to herself. Then pointed to my necklace and pointed to herself. I got the hint quickly that she was asking for my necklace. The very instant I went to pull it off to give it to her, she was happy to pull it off for me. In the same motion of taking it off of my blonde head, she swiped it happily onto her own brown shoulders, jumped up and began shouting her call of jubilation! I laughed it off as something funny and cute, all the while being told at my seat that it made her day and that she would be telling her grandchildren about me. I was humbled for sure. I have so much, and this one little thing that I was willing to give will be spoken about for generations. It’s too much to think of.

Before the official ceremony began, a few people gave speeches. Then, being the honored guests, Jill got to cut the ribbon as they prayed for the hut! We ducked down under the thatch to enter into the dark abyss. It was such a dramatic experience being in this tiny space with a woman crying tears of joy. A woman whose foot is so messed up that she couldn’t walk straight. Venturing out into the bright sun again, one of the first things I saw was another rainbow in the sky behind the truck. What an amazing experience…ending with seeing God’s promise. 

The Reverend spoke some more, then some women danced more as we headed out. From the car window, I asked my friends if it would be ok for me to do the shout of jubilee. They kind of responded by saying, “You can do it? Sure, let’s hear it!” Almost the instant I did so, all of the women turned their heads and joined in with me and then they wound up cheering for me. I loved it!  Three old ladies came up to shake my hand. Two of them were pointing to their eyes, and we later found out that they were wanting glasses because they couldn’t see. As we pulled away I did one last shout (if you don’t know what this sounds like, it’s a loud high pitched trill that turns into an “eee” at the end). I have to say, it feel pretty good to shout like that.  I can see why they do it J

On our way back to the compound, we needed to stop for petrol gas. Being as every gas station in town was out of gas, we had to stop at Total for it. I’ve never seen an old fashioned pump in action, but this thing was literally pumping to get the gas out of the machine. The man on the other side churned a knob round and round vigorously until the appropriate amount was dispensed. Quite fascinating.

Dinner that night was made by Millie, a woman younger than me who is widowed with children and works for the mission.  We ate under stars, talked and listened to some music. Everyone slowly left that evening, so I sat and sang worship songs while looking at God’s amazing galaxy. It was simply a blessing to be out in creation alone. It’s not very often that I get that privilege here.

Sunrise the next morning was amazing. And we got to eat donuts. What could be better? We started off super early for the 2 ½ hour drive to Gulu along a road to Kitgum then across a short cut to see more of the country. Reverend wanted us to see more of Acholi land in the deep bush.

We arrived at Reverends house early and greeted his family. We were ushered into their vastly decorated living room to drink chai and eat bread & butter. After resting a bit we were shown our rooms where we would spend the night in Reverend’s home. From the outside, the home doesn’t look too big, but when you enter the door you find a small courtyard leading to 4 bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and what seemed to be a study-ish room. The kitchen is a separate hut outside.  I later learned the amazing story behind that home. We then went to a church that was on Reverends land in a school room. Some other pastors kindly sat between us muno’s (word for white person up north) to interpret for us. The youth group even got up to show us a special song and dance. Such talent in those walls. When the service was over Jill and I passed out sweets to the children. I even had some adults telling me they used to be children and asked for one :D I gave them one just for their creativity. Before we headed back to his home, Reverend showed us his father & sisters graves, then the place where he grew up (which was now just a plot of thick tall grass) then some of his land and all of his crops.

We went home to eat a wonderfully prepared lunch after getting to take a short nap. It consisted of Malakwang (Meh-leh-kw-ah-n) which is a green cooked with g-nut paste, simsim butter (sesame), water, tomatoes and onions, and then there was also another type of bitter green with simsim paste, all with sweet potatoes- an AMAZING meal cooked by his college-aged daughter.

After lunch the four of us got to go swimming with Reverends youngest son, Martin. He was scared to hop in the big pool, so we made sure to bring him to the deep end on horseback.

Upon pulling up to the Reverend’s home we were greeted on the roadside by a group of women dancing and singing. We were instructed to get out of car and follow them. This of course led to more dancing! I struggled to grasp the first dance, but totally nailed the second one when they were bent over holding sticks. Some of the women came over and cheered for me as I kept the beat and got my shoulders and feet moving in the correct pattern. Before it ended I just had to get my picture taken with a little old lady who was fully decked out in Uganda gear. She was so cute!

That night we went out to eat in town with Reverend’s daugher. I was totally blown away by the size of Gulu! I wasn’t expecting it to be filled with IDP camps, but there were just SO many buildings.  Mbarara in Southwest Uganda is supposedly the 2nd biggest town in the country, but I honestly think that this might have been bigger than Mbarara. It’s grown so much due to the number of NGOs basing themselves there. After dinner we drove Reverends daughter to the campus of Gulu University, which pretty much out in the bush outside of Gulu. She’s worked so hard to get where she is! On the way back to Reverend Kenneth’s home, the boys told us the story of Reverend’s capture by the LRA. He was with them for a solid week, then managed to escape while he was sent to pick sugar cane in the fields. At that time hotels in Gulu were expensive – the cheapest being 60,000/night (when most people still live on less than 2,000/day). So, Reverend Kenneth fixed up his home, sealing all of the cracks with tar so that no light could be seen from the outside, to make it appear as though no one was home. He then housed people in his home. The danger in that was that if the LRA came to a home and the owners refused to open the doors, the soldiers would kill the closest neighbors. The next day the entire community would angry with them for causing the death of innocent people. Thank God that LRA didn’t come knocking.

That night Jill and I discovered that we only had 1 bed net and 2 beds. So…we pushed our beds together and stretched the net as far as we could. That night I slept half out of bed net- waking up randomly to hear the boys next door claiming there were rats & cockroaches in their room.

The next morning was slow, reading the bible under the mango tree and watching the ducks waddle about the yard. There were some kids that came to greet us on the way to school… then brought friends back to greet us as well. It’s funny, yet normal to me now somehow, to be treated as a celebrity. People came to buy milk from the Reverend’s wife- they produce 30 liters a day- though most of it goes to orphaned kids that World Vision pays to feed. Before we packed the truck and headed to town we had a great breakfast of chai, rolls & butter and cassava chips. Mmmm…

Once in town we made our way to the Invisible Children (IC) office to check it out. Oddly enough, I was recognized by the man who does Communications and Education programs there. He had seen me at the IC ballet earlier this year. You run into people everywhere you go around here! In the boardroom he told us of all the projects they do here on the ground. I was really impressed at some of the things they are doing. This past summer they even ran a teacher-training program, sending US teachers to Uganda, and Ugandan teachers to the US!!! It’s so neat to see one of my passions being played out- teacher training in 3rd world countries.

Before heading to the airport to leave we walked around the market in town. Our best find was the bells that women tie around feet while they dance! We each bought one to remember our amazing dancing experiences, and the amazing ways that we blessed people, but most of all that we were blessed by them!

In a way I wish I’d never left. Their culture is SO amazing and welcoming. I know they have problems, but with their joy that surpasses understanding, who wouldn’t want to be amongst that?

I never want to forget that joy. There’s joy to be found at any moment. Even in an IDP camp wearing no shoes and sitting in the dirt…there’s joy…in Christ.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I don't know which way to go, so I search the stars, basking in the glow- Bebo Norman

The song "To find my way to you" which this title quotes might not be the story of my life, though I am across lines from the people I love, but it still moves me. 
Stars speak to me even more. So when my dear friend Lisa Fish invited me to join her and some other missionary ladies to go star gazing on her birthday, I gladly accepted. That night I was still struggling in my heart over a pretty big decision that had to be made. Perhaps somewhere inside of me I had hoped that God would speak to me through his creation again. The next line in the song above is "...but they all fall down without a sound from the sky..." When we arrived at the hotel and made our way to the gardens, we found a nice dry spot on a bridge to lay out. Lisa said a quick prayer that included asking God for a shooting star. It seems like a lot of times we ask God for things, not quite expecting them to come true, but hoping all the while. In my head, this was one of those. At first we saw lots of twinklings above us, spotting the magnificently easy to find Orion, then someone pointed out the Southern Cross on the horizon. Since we live on the equator, we have a unique view of parts of both of what the 2 hemispheres view on a nightly basis. Soon we saw a small dash of light flash before our eyes, though there was a debate on what it actually was. Could it have been a bat? There were plenty of them flocking around our heads. We went on with our delightful conversation and before long it was quite clear what was going across the sky. A true shooting star! It started in the top right corner of my view and slowly shot down to the bottom left corner of the sky. It was beautiful as everyone started cheering and Praising God for what he gave us. I can still picture it so well in my memory. I'm a thinker...at least sometimes. That moment I was at least. We were talking about what a shooting star is: a star that has burnt out, thousands of light years ago. Thousands of light years. That's not any easy thing to grasp by any sense of the word. God has control over that whole realm. That star burnt out thousands of years ago. Imagine! God knew thousands of years ago that the 9 of us would be sitting on that bridge looking up at His marvelous creation asking Him to show us a shooting star. God knew! He knew that this childish request would be dawning his ears THOUSANDS of YEARS ago! He cares that much about us. We know that God knows all. But we can't know how little time affects God. I'm glad to accept that God knows, and I don't need to. Even when it's hard to not know what your future holds. 
Since then, God has revealed himself to me again in a unique way. I was in a car going from Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya. If you know Kenya at all, you'll know that Mombasa is a costal city on the Indian Ocean about an 8 hour drive from Nairobi. This long road, which is quite flat now, goes through a HUGE game park. On the way there we had seen some small antelopes, and I thought it might be nice if I could see more on the way back. I prayed that God would let me see either a giraffe or an elephant. Quite soon after uttering those prayers in my head I thought, 'How could I ask God for more? He has already shown me so much beauty. There are people all around me that haven't moved 30 miles from the place they were born and here I am asking for more than what he has given me? God, you don't need to show me that, you've given me SO much already and I am truly thankful!' And I really was. God had his own plan in mind. Hours later I drifted in and out of a daze, read some, snacked some more, and almost forgot about that prayer that I had made. We were out of the park boundaries traveling at a good speed when out of no where Brent said "Giraffes!" And low and behold, for a few glorious seconds I looked to my right and saw not only 1 but 4 giraffes standing 20 feet apart of the side of the road looking our direction. It was almost as if they were a part of a dominos game how well they were lined up, just waiting for someone to come and knock the first one down. I couldn't help but laugh out loud at what had just happened. Such beautiful and majestic creatures. God wants to bless us! Not only does He want to move giraffes out of a park and line them up on the side of the road just to be sure we see them, He wants to think thousands of years ahead of someones life just to give them a small gift of a shooting star. These are small things. They are not things that change our lives dramatically. Sure, it's fun to say "I saw a giraffe on the side of the road" (although most Americans seem to think that a normal occurrence for someone living in Africa, it's really NOT), but it's not life altering. It doesn't have anything to do with what my profession may be, how many children I have, or where I live. They are simply small gifts. Great ones, but small none the less. How awesome of a God we serve that he wants to do that for us! It blows my mind. We all have our days where we seriously struggle, the Lord knows that I've had mine even in the past few months, but behind them all is a God who cares immensely for us! I can't think of any other way to describe it. God want's to give freely and abundantly, and it starts with accepting His greatest gift for us, His life.
"Be joyful always; pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thes. 5:16-18

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Entertaining Angels while the night becomes history, host of heaven, sing over me- Newsboys

Do you ever wish you could just freeze time, grab a magical tape recorder and press record? And by magical tape recorder, I don't just mean one that records sound. Besides adding in video that captures the detail in facial expressions, I want that recording to soak in the lighting of that moment. I long to hear the tiny sounds continue lingering and the faint smells trail into my nostrils. I want it to emit the intense emotions that were wrapped up in that instant of time. 
There are so many moments that I wish I could convey to people, but am just not able to.
I guess that's why those moments are so special.
Tonight was one of those I think. I'll never be able to fully explain to you what it was like sitting in my Kenyan friends hostel (like a college dorm, but privately owned and rented out) room on her roommates bed. This week during bible study we finished discussing the story of Lot's Wife and the destruction that was brought upon her, even with God's AMAZING mercy on her family. 
At the end of the study, questions were brought before us to ponder and discuss. Two of them in particular were highlighted by the girls: "Are you listening to God's Messengers?" and "When God asks you to go in one direction, are you 'looking back' or pressing forward?" 
Lot's wife didn't listen to the Angels that God sent. They literally took her by the hand (I think it's fantastic that angels can hold your hand by the way) and dragged her out of the city- where she had left her heart. Her body left, but her heart was so much so in that place that she just had to turn back and look at it, causing her to turn into a pillar of salt. Did you know that even in the 2nd century people wrote about how they still knew where that pillar was? Imagine! All those years. I wonder what ever became of it.
I was totally humbled that one of them suggested that I could be an Angel sent to them. I quickly reassured them that I was not, but then one of them suggested that maybe I just didn't know it :D 
We sat and discussed for a while stories that we had either heard or experienced ourselves in encountering angels or demons- because it says in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light. I sat there hearing lots of stories of witchcraft and things that people don't ever consider as a reality in America, but are so real. Terrible tales of people posing as Christians just to drag others down and murder their neighbors as a blood sacrifice to the devil. Not only did the ladies tell stories of demons, but also stories of entertaining angels. These women are so welcoming. That is one aspect of this culture that I love. They open their homes and wallets to one another so freely. One of the girls was saying how at her home, they always cook extra food everyday because they just know that at some point they will have a visitor- whether it be someone who is selling coal or a passing neighbor. They invite people into their homes, and are blessed by those people in return when they pray for them. It got me thinking of how closely people clutch their wallets to their chests, when it's God's wallet after all. 
After we had all gone around and answered these questions and told our tales, one of the girls wanted to close us in prayer. She had a few more words to say however...she said that for a few moments she had been looking at her foot. We all giggled a little bit as she swiveled her heal examining it again. She carried on explaining that she was in awe of God, saying something along these lines: "God is the creator of this foot" she went on. "There is so much detail and so much effort. It is just amazing that this was formed by His hands. It's just amazing to me." It was so cute, so honest, and SO true. Take your foot out of those slippers you're wearing in that cold weather you've got and check out the detail. There's just the right amount of bones...and there is flesh. Underneath that flesh lies a world that I don't claim to understand, but am thankful that God has ordained it so. 
I may not sense God as fully as I would like at this moment in time, or know specifically who his messengers are that surround me, but I can rest assured that he has mercy on those who love him. God rescued Lot and his daughters because of Abraham's faithfulness to God. Abraham bargained with God to get his relatives out of Sodom, and God loved him so much, that He went along with his request. 
May we be faithful to HIM in all circumstances...we've so much to learn.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It's me, it's me, it's me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer

I’m not really one to speak of spiritual battles, but if I have ever known one to be, it is now. There is a lot of evidence of war at Heritage International School, where the school is facing some rather large and serious issues. There is even evidence of battles in other areas of our lives here. Within our mission, nearly all of our vehicles have problems and have been put into the garage with very strange problems. Now we are left to walking and staying in at night- making it hard, if not impossible to do some of the ministries that I am involved in. Strangely even the weather here has been very odd, with large amounts of heavy rain coming during dry season, so much to cause a landslide killing hundreds of people. Even in my own life I have felt battles waging. I am not at liberty to give any details pertaining to the schools’ situation, but please please keep us in your prayers.

One HUGE praise is that one of our High Schoolers accepted Jesus into his heart after chapel today! He is Indian and comes from a “Jain” background. This is big news and we are all so excited to welcome him into the kingdom. Please continue to pray that he will be an amazing witness to his family and that we as a Christian family are able to continue discipling him. 

Thanks so much for all of your support and for continuing to lift Uganda up in your prayers to the Almighty and Powerful Lord that we serve. The song "What a mighty God we serve" comes to mind, and it is so true!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus, fill me with your Spirit Lord- Big Tent Revival

This past week at Heritage International School was SPIRIT WEEK!
I have to say that this week is one of my favorites. I just love the chance to dress up like a nut. The themes this week were:
Wacky Tacky: Honesty

(Above: Me and Miss Eunice; 2 happy 1st graders; Teresa, Jill (2 teachers) and Obeti admiring the DOUBLE rainbow after school)

What I want to be when I grow up: Forgiveness

(Above: Lisa Mayo as an old lady; a builder & scientist; Teresa & me as a safari guide & singer)

Cartoon Character:

(Above: Lisa Fish as Larry the cucumber; Kristi & Me as Cheshire Cat & Queen of Hearts; 2nd grader as Pinnochio; some crazy 1st graders)

Pajama day:

(Above: 4 little ones playing as they untangle themselves; some 1st graders in their pj's)

Games day: 

(Willy (support staff) helping out in basketball; handing off the egg; 2nd grader & me in the 3 legged race; My team...go blue!)

I admit that I was sunburnt and completely drained by the time 1pm came around on Friday, but never-the-less rejuivinated in spirit as I certainly felt younger :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

When I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hands hath made- How Great Thou Art

This year Christmas looked a bit different for me. Not only did I attend 4 different churches in 2 weeks time, but I also did so with my parents! We certain experienced different sides of life in each of those. We went to a Pentecostal Christmas Cantata on Christmas eve which was a HUGE show and was very well done. We went to the Anglican All Saint’s Cathedral on Christmas morning and heard an excellent sermon by the Kampala Bishop. Then on the next Sunday we went to the Orthodox Cathedral on the other side of town- my parents are Orthodox and wanted to experience a service here and meet some people- little did they no that we were to sit through a 4 hour service with no more than 2 bible passages said in English. The last was at our Kisugu Branch of Africa Gospel Churches (AGC), which my mission starts. I hadn’t been there in a long time, but it was good for my parents to see more of what my normal services are like. I usually attend KIU’s AGC and there are usually over 1,000 there, but with a mostly Kenyan population, most of them have headed back home for the holidays.

The weather was also quite different. Mid 70’s and cloudy with a bit of rain. On the East coast of the US, where I suspect most of you reading this are, it was cold and snowy, as many people dream of. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed it!

My parent’s presence was such a blessing as they got to experience some unique aspects of my life here. They met people I work with within my mission, my co-workers at school, my current 1st grade students (plus some students from last year that I treasure like Wasswa, Ha-rim and Ruben), Susan (who I am teaching to read-see entry below), and some of the AGC pastors and their wives (including Rebecca who makes the paper bead necklaces). Although they didn’t get the opportunity to meet any of my KIU friends, they did pass by the campus so at least they know what I am talking about when I speak of KIU now. In addition to meeting so many people, they also got the privilege to see several areas of this amazingly beautiful country. I brought them to the Entebbe Botanical gardens where we saw so many cool things! There were cinnamon trees, enormously tall palms, baobabs, Gerber daisies, vervit monkeys & colobus monkeys, storks, and so much more! Then my parents treated me to a safari at Murchison Falls! It is so beautiful up there with so many different terrains. We saw lots of animals such as water buffalo, Uganda Cob, Water buck, giraffe, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, wart hogs, and LIONS (up close and personal)! There were also tons of beautiful birds and got a special treat of spotting a genet cat walk up to our table after dinner one evening!

While I was wandering the rocks of the falls where the great river Nile converges and pours down hundreds of feet at an alarming rate and power though a gap around 20 meters wide the wonderful lyrics of How Great Thou Art rolled around in my head. The force of the water was loud enough for me to sing through a few stanzas as well without anyone noticing This creation that HE CREATED truly is an amazingly beautiful sight, enough to make a soul sing 

Before they left we also ventured to Jinja to see the Source of the Nile, Bujigali falls and some of that cute city. I really enjoy it there. My parents helped out in organizing the library at school and my mom even came in and told the story of Epiphany of January 6th while my dad sang “We Three Kings”. It was a really neat time to share and a good way of teaching the children more about seasons in the church calendar. Some people didn’t even think there really were 12 days of Christmas, thinking it was just a song. It’s neat to see people learn!

While my parents time here wasn't always as beautiful as a flower, it was an eye opening experience to them I think. We got into matatus (15 passenger vans that they stuff with at least 16 people) and made our way down to Owino market (check out my article on jeans to discover a taste of what it's like), even drove through Christmas eve traffic. People say that it's unlike anything they've ever seen elsewhere. Some call it overwhelming chaos. Some call it adventure. I think of it as another glimpse of God's world that I am privileged to live in for the time being.

check out my pictures to the song "How Great Thou Art" on my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2040516&id=30200100&l=654eb6f3b6

Friday, January 1, 2010

Joyful, Joyful we adore thee

Joyous Christmas! I know, this is not the usual “Merry Christmas”, but as I sat in church this morning, we were reminded to think of it as more than that. It’s not just a “merry” thing. This commercial world that we seem to live in at times may think of it as such, but we know more.

“Merry” is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as “cheerful and lively”. While the worlds’ most amazing life was brought into this world on this day, Christmas is more than lively. It’s more than cheerful. There was a lot of cheer that came forth from this truly glorious occasion over 2000 years ago. However, it’s SO much more than that. It’s magnificentbrilliantheavenly. But at the same time, it was humblemeekmild. This Wonderful CounselorMighty GodEverlasting Father, and Prince of Peace was born so that He could be with us. He humbled himself to not only be born in a place where animals eat mush, but then give completely of Himself for us. It’s too much to even fathom.

Just a tid-bit from my Christmas e-mail that I sent to my friends and family. If you're not on that list, but would like to be, don't hesitate to ask! I remain, ever hungry for Him, and striving to be joyful always.