Monday, July 30, 2012

"I'm gonna call it home, I got a brand new mindset" -Switchfoot

I've never been what I would say is a charismatic. I don't feel comfortable raising my hands during praise and worship. Being raised in an Episcopal church didn't lend to that style. The longer I lived in Africa however, the freer I felt about different ways of adoring our Creator. I've also never been one to pray my own prayer aloud or sing my own song aloud while tons of others around do so. Not that I am not worshiping, just doing so silently, my ADD brain too distracted by what's going on around me. I would say that this past year having daily devotions and prayer at the Assemblies of God school where I taught certainly helped me see the benefits of praying in such a manner.
Last night was the 2nd Worship Night I've been to this summer. It all started back in December 2008 when a colleague at school started to raise up a generation of worshippers. He started what is known as STUDiO_10. It's a group of young musicians who are striving to serve God through leading worship. Check them out here. Since then I've had the privilege of serving alongside them in different capacities. In past years I've helped lead worship at their Worship Nights or taken pictures. This time around it's the later.
After wandering the room snapping photos for the first hour or so I decided to settle in my seat. The song slowly faded to a new one: "Nothing I Hold On To". I'd heard it the week before and it's incredibly simple. The song went through and at the end the leader for the song encouraged everyone to sing their own song to God. As I sat there I had molded my way into the song. Moving with it's beat. Feeling it's words. And turning them over to God. At times, with certain songs, I am tempted to change the lyrics. For example, with the song "How He loves", I will often change it to "How You love us" as I sing to the One who is jealous for me. With the song "Nothing I Hold On To" there are lines that are repeated: "I give it all to you God trusting that you'll make something beautiful out of me; I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open." We as humans are flawed. How many times have I said that I was going to give it all to God? Then how much of that time do I wind up taking it back into my own control? I don't dare to think upon it. But I know it's a lot. So in singing this song, I felt the need to add a few words.  When we were invited to sing our own song to God, adding those words was exactly what I was doing. I didn't realize it at the time, but I got more comfortable with adding words and found myself feeling at home. I was singing my own song to God, albeit ever so quietly, but I was one of those people singing my own thing aloud to the Lord. At the conclusion of the song this immense sense of feeling at home dawned upon me. I realized that with the Holy Spirit I can feel at home anywhere. I thought back to how I felt as we were driving in the village towards the church. The fact that I had my camera out and wanted to snap photos already can attest to the fact that I did not feel at home then. But upon allowing myself to be totally honest with God and flow into His presence, I was home.
I should say that "home" is not something that has been defined very well over the past 9 years. It's been relative. Home in college was either the dorm room, the house which my parents lived in, or a room at camp. Home for the next year was either the apartment or again the house in which my parents dwelled. While in Uganda I lived in 3 different places, in 2 different neighborhoods. This past year I've been so blessed to live with my parents again. Now I'm back in Uganda for the summer and home is in Muyenga. Add my obsession with travel to the aforementioned mix and we have cOnFuSiOn. It was impressed upon me in the middle of my time in Uganda that God is my only Rock. The Psalms talk about it a lot. People changed all around me in the international community. God IS my Rock. But I had never thought of Him as home before. I've made reference to the fact that my allegiance is with a King and my true home is in Heaven. But what about the time I have left here on earth?
Later that night I was sitting still and quiet while others were screaming out for God. It dawned upon me that no matter what is going on around me I can feel at home as well. There is always the potential to feel at home in the Holy Spirit. In Him is love, joy, peace ... and home.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"maybe you'll provide in other ways and if that's the case we'll give thanks to you" Nichole Nordeman

God is a God of so many things. One of the wonderful aspects of Him is Provider. We don't always understand how He will provide or why He provides the way he does, but He knows best and it's wonderful to get those little reminders.
The enrollment at the school where I taught at this past year went down significantly. Therefore, they had to downsize A LOT. Many teachers were left without a job. I really did love the school and it's sad to see it changing so much. The children that I taught were a real heaven-sent. So, back in May I began the search for a new job. I kept searching...and searching...and searching day after day. Teaching jobs are very hard to come by these days. While I have gotten several "your resume is fascinating" type e-mails, there are no openings. By the time July came around I still didn't have a job. I prayed to God that I would have a job before leaving to go to Uganda. Internet access has gotten infinitely better since I first came to Uganda, but it's still spotty. I didn't want to have to rely on doing interviews via Skype. Been there, done that. Stressful. Thanks to a connection through the pastor at the church I attended between college and living in Uganda, the DAY I LEFT to come to Uganda I was offered a job! God knows what he is doing, does he ever! It's not the type of job I was expecting. It's not one that the world would call a good job, but it was SO clear to me that it was where I needed to be. The story of Gideon strikes again! I'm looking forward to the learning experience through it all.
It's funny how much God really does know what he's doing. We doubt. Boy, do we ever. We have these little mind tricks that we allow to invade our way of thinking. But when we need to know, He provides a way. His timing is perfect. The week after I arrived in Uganda I was asked to interview at a local public school via Skype. The principal at the school is even a graduate of my alma mater. Honestly, if I had been offered both jobs at the same time, I probably would have taken the public school position. According to the world's standards it's a better job- more money, more stability, more chances to further my academic career, etc. But by the grace of God I am where he wants me to be.
This was impressed upon me even more when I started tutoring down at Heritage International School, where I taught 1st grade for 3 years. Greeting smile after shining white smile, many people thought I was "back". Someone even threatened to lock me in a classroom to make me stay when they heard I was only here for a few weeks. It's been tough telling people that I am not here to stay this time. The elementary school principal made a comment to me that it was a shame I wasn't going to be here for the  first full week of school. Apparently she didn't know that I was around for the first 3 days. Upon hearing that I was, she promptly asked me if I would be willing to teach 2nd grade. The teacher that is supposed to teach 2nd grade won't be here until the 2nd full week, so they need someone to set up the classroom and teach. I said that I was here to help, and in I am thrown. To the lions den. This will be the class that I would have taught last year if I had stayed. Setting up a classroom is a lot of work. Teaching is not an easy task, as any teacher can attest to. Every time someone here finds out that I am filling in that need they say, "OH, what a huge blessing!" For them? Absolutely. I am thrilled to be helping out where it is most needed. For me? I'm scared. Not scared of the labor. Not scared of the students or the teaching. I'm scared for my heart. As I've been tutoring here I've been reminded of how much I love these children; how much I love this school; how much beauty surrounds me here. I am afraid that in the process of getting things ready for school and actually teaching my heart will be squeezed even more and begin to think that I am staying.
Don't get me wrong. It was hard adjusting to American life again, but by the time I left the states I felt somehow at home there. I was learning to enjoy things again stateside. I knew that my heart would be stretched when I felt lead to come back here this summer. God knew what he was doing when he made sure I had a job in place before I got here. I know I have grad school starting, but they offer deferment. I do have something to return to. I've got a work that needs to be done. I've got a need to be met in America as well. And through it all, we can give thanks! Even if he provides in ways unexpected, I am filled with gratitude. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"I don't wanna be a chicken..."

...but I will buy one!

I know I just posted 3 other blogs, but this is just too funny to pass up!

The village church that I just returned from (yes, it's 4pm now) is raising money for their floor. Not everyone has money, so they give what they can. This morning one family brought a chicken. It's not unusual for people to bring in crops as their tithe or offering, but what is a church going to do with a chicken? Have a market!
So...the bidding began. I wasn't quite sure what was going on. The money amounts that were being stated were very confusing. I asked the woman that I came with if I should join in. She told me to go ahead and the amount I should offer. I leaned over to my 13 year-old friend sitting next to me and said "dream come true." I raised my hand and offered the equivalent of $16. The church erupted in cheering and laughter. Then the original bidder added on to what she had originally offered. It soon became clear that people were working with each other, not against all the time. A stranger in the audience added on to my amount being offered. Now the pastors wife and I were tied in the amount being offered. Finally another missionary added $4 onto mine and the bidding was finished. I had won the chicken! The other people who lost did not get their money back. Whatever was offered was taken as a donation to the church. The whole thing was really very funny and took quite a while. I took video of the last 7 minutes of it. I crack up as I watch the pastor shake the chicken to prove that it makes a good sound at about 5:30 minutes into it. I've posted it on facebook, you can find the link below. Let me know if it doesn't work for you. I encourage you to watch and be entertained :)
Click HERE to see the Chicken in Church Video

I didn't know what to do with the chicken. I know I love them...but I had actually never picked one up before. One of the missionary kids grabbed ahold of it's wings for me and handed it over.  I didn't want to keep it, as I don't have a home for it or the means to care for it. So it was decided to give it to the jaja (grandmother) sitting behind me. She was quite surprised and very grateful. She kept saying "webale nyo" over and over again. The pastor told me later about how she is so faithful walking ever-so-slowly to church each week with her grandchildren.

And so, that is my story of how I once owned a chicken for 1 hour. He doesn't know it, but I named him Gweno, which is how you say chicken in the Acholi language of Northern Uganda. Below is a picture of me giving it to jaja with one of the pastors translating for us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"I am not afraid to let your light shine bright in my life" -Martyrs & Thieves

Going to see Judith on my mom's birthday

My trip to Gulu had been in the works for months. In order to visit my sponsor child through World Vision I had to get lots of clearances. Even once I arrived in Uganda I had to jump through hoops. To put it bluntly, I wasn't sure if this whole thing was going to pan out. After many phone calls and putting out the possibility of canceling the whole thing, I left early on Wednesday morning on the bus with my friend Susan. Susan is the woman who worked in my home while I lived in Uganda. In many parts of Africa, if you do not hire someone to work in your home, it is considered very rude. We are viewed as having money (and comparatively we all do) and therefore should provide someone with a much needed job. Enter Susan. Not only did I get to know her in those circumstances, but as many of you know, I had the privilege of teaching this woman in her late 30's to read. I look forward to getting to work with her more in the coming weeks. Anyway, Susan's family lives up near Gulu so she went up with me on the bus. It's not really safe for a white girl to travel by herself in these parts, so having Susan go with me was a huge blessing. The bus ride was fairly uneventful, except for the fact that we waited in it for 2 hours before it was full enough to leave. And except for the lady who struggled to get her things off and the bus kept driving as she hopped off with half of her stuff 1/2 a mile back down the road. They mean business!

Honestly, this trip worked out better than I could have imagined it.

Upon my arrival I was picked at the taxi park by World Vision. I was taken to their offices and shown around. I sat down with a lot of the people there to learn about what they are doing and where. They really seem to be doing a great job at what they set out to do. I was honestly dumbfounded at the dedication the young people who work there have. To get a job with them one either has to have an A level certificate or a Bachelors. Also, 80% of them are from that area of Uganda. It's great that they hire local people who know the language and culture and provide jobs for people who have worked hard!
They brought me to my hotel, made sure it was alright, then left. I walked around town for a bit buying gifts to bring out to Judith. Judith is the child that I sponsor. I chose her because she shares my mother's name. That was July 18th- my mother's birthday. I figured that if I couldn't be with my mom for her annual birthday celebration on Coney Island, the next best thing would be to spend it with Judith in Uganda. I found a lot of great things for Judith and headed back to the hotel with some food. When I got back there was no power, so I sat around until it was pitch black at which time the power came on. It's not safe to be wandering around town after dark so I enjoyed a good, relaxing read.

The next morning I was picked up early by World Vision staff for their daily morning devotions. It was an honor to sit around a large circle with about 20 Ugandans as they sang hymns and praised the Lord. They read a passage in 2 Samuel and lead a great discussion.  Afterwards I spoke more with some of the staff. They were impressed with how clear my English accent was and it made sense to them that I had lived in Uganda for several years. I was served some tea, maize and chapati for breakfast before we left. The maize (i.e. corn) is different here. It's boiled for about 60 minutes while it's still in the husk. Even though it is boiled for so long, it never really gets soft. When you bite into it the whole kernel comes off.

We set off for Judith's village and made it there in good time. We were ushered into the hut that is like their living room and talked for a while with Judith, her family and their neighbors. She is incredibly shy. I was told that she is timid around all adults, but really opens up when playing. She told me all about her favorite game, "7 stones" and I got her to set up a demonstration for me! I gave her the gifts that I bought for her, including school supplies, a backpack, food, a Bible (which I wrote a message in), and stickers (which she had never seen before). They were very grateful and gave me some items in return! I couldn't believe it! They gave me a large pot that is used for keeping water cool inside of homes. They also gave me a basket that is made locally and used for eating g-nuts and a clay bowl used for eating.

Then they served me food. Now thankfully I know this culture. I knew ahead of time that I would be offered food and could not turn it down. I didn't want them to serve me food, but it's just not an option here. So, I preemptively spoke to the people at World Vision. Judith's grandmother had actually already called asking what to make for the mzungu. They were amazing and even made me g-nut sauce without onions and tomatoes. They also had a special sauce that they add to their food after it's on their plates. It's made out of shea nuts. The food was delicious and we had some great conversations about what things are like in different cultures.

After the meal we went outside for some games. Some of the neighborhood kids had made a jumprope out of fresh grass while I ate! They asked me to try jumping. It was an epic fail on my part! I've never been good at jumprope. I did get a chance to play their game "7 Stones" however, and I did very well at that game. Very simple and lots of fun! After that Judith's grandmother gave me a huge bag of sweet potatoes to take home. I didn't notice it at the time, but the bag that it came in brought me great humor later. You can find a picture below :)

After hanging out for a long while and taking loads of pictures we went back inside and gave farewell speeches.

From there we took Judith to school in the truck. It's a 40 minute walk each way! We met the head teacher and went into her classroom. We were warmly greeting with a song and about 100 smiling faces. After a tour of the school we dropped Judith off near her home. She didn't seem to want to go. She didn't say much, but she was just so hesitant. She really seems like a sweet girl and I am so blessed to have gotten to meet her.

On our way back to the World Vision offices the road was blocked off. Some people had cut down some trees and put them in the road as a protest to try and get the road fixed! It really was very hard to pass even before, so I understand why. So we had to find a different way around, getting stuck in the mud along the way.

Before leaving the office to be taken back to my hotel I asked if I could leave some little money to help cover the costs of fuel. They wouldn't let me! It is a part of what they do. They told me that I could donate directly through World Vision if I wanted to, but that money doesn't pass through them. I truly honor their lack of corruption at that office. It's something to be treasured here.

I then had the chance to go and take some pictures for a small new non-profit up in Gulu and met some women who had been abducted by the LRA. The non-profit is training them to sew and also providing counseling for them! The pictures will be used for advertising their products to sell in the US. Thankfully I had my big camera and external flash.

That night I relaxed again at the hotel. This time I endeavored to watch some TV. I soon discovered that though each room had a TV, the hotel only bought 1 subscription for 2 channels, which actually ran out soon after I turned on the TV. It was rather amusing to have your TV set being controlled by someone hundreds of feet away!

In the morning I met Susan at the taxi park and we had an amazingly quick ride back to Kampala.
It was a short trip, but a blessing in more ways that I can describe.
God is GOOD.
The message I wrote to Judith being read & translated from the Bible

Some of the gifts given to me
Judith's Grandma and Me (with my sack of sweet potatoes)

Doing some routine checks on the village kids

Judith and some of her family

"And through everything we've learned we finally come to terms, we are the outsiders" -needtobreathe

Many times Kampala=chaos. I've only been in Kampala for a few days...but this is what I've got so far.

Pulling out of the bus depot to find tons of taxis lined up.

Boda-boda drivers waiting for someone to come along for a ride.

The "library" in Uganda. Quite curious what is behind those gates.

Parking at its finest. Yes, this is a parking lot. Yes, you are expected to finagle your way through here if you want to be a patron at those shops. 

To market!

Need some furniture? Don't buy it on the side of the road. Chances are it's sat through many rain storms and collected massive amounts of dirt. Instead, go to that little shack and have some stuff made for you! You can see some of his work displayed outside.

"A picture paints a thousand words but the photographs don't tell it all" -Nothing to Say, Andrew Peterson

Amongst all of the very interesting songs I have heard on the radio in Uganda, the above lyrics are from one American song that I heard this past week. I'd never heard it before, but really enjoy the song. If you're new to this blog, I try to title my posts with song lyrics that have moved me or are simply amusing and relate to the topic at hand.

Some of the other lyrics that I love from the song are:
I see the eagle swim the canyon sea
Creation yawns in front of me
Oh Lord, I never felt so small

And I don't believe that I believed
In You as deeply as today
I reckon what I'm saying is 
There's nothing more 
Nothing more to say

And the mountains sing Your glory hallelujah
The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
My spirit sails
The mighty gales are bellowing
Your name
And I've got nothing to say

I've done quite a bit of traveling in the past week. Below you will find some pictures of the fascinating roadside scenes.

This Fanta bottle still had orange soda inside when they began filling it with fuel.

Waiting for the animals to get out of the road.

We even wait for baboons to get out of the road.


The tipping of that bus is not an optical illusion. Hence why we ask for prayer when we take public transport. This guy flew past us. I didn't take that company to Gulu.

A preferred mode of transport. Those cows are tied up so tight next to each other. Not safe to be sitting on top of long-horned cattle on bumpy roads.

Selling simsim biscuits on the side of the road for 500/= (~ $.20)

The partially eaten product. Good stuff!

 Huge bags of coal for sale on the side of the road. People just put it out there and then when they see a car stopped they come running from their huts to sell.

Lisa buying fresh mangos!

One of the wackiest roadside statues.

This truly is a beautiful place. Victoria Nile at Karuma Falls.

How much do you pay per gallon? This is in liters. Basically it's just under $6 a gallon here right now.

This is one of the bus companies that service Arua. Gaagaa is the name of the bird pictured. Not the nicest sounding bird ever. 

Hope you've enjoyed looking at Roadside Uganda :) There are many other sights of course, but most are not easy to catch on film.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Love came down and rescued me" ~Brian Johnson

Today I had the chance to go to the Field Museum here in Chicago. They had a wonderful and vast exhibit of Africa and it got me very excited to return. It's now hitting me that this is really happening and I thank God for this opportunity. 
Set scene: crowded Chicago subway. 9pm last night. Across from me sits a young girl with spiked bleached hair, a depressed look on her face and brownies on her lap. Next to her sits an Asian teen with his propped up skateboard whose underbelly displays a distain for life. On the other side of a pole is an African-American man in his 30's wearing a t-shirt that reads "Respect education". Of course many others surround, including a shabbily dressed woman in her 40's and any manner of other humans.
I sat there wearily praying after a long day...and I was struck with the overwhelming sense of God's love for the people around me. He so badly wants to be apart of our lives. I looked around at all sorts of people and concentrated on the fact that Jesus loves them as much as anyone else. I am so thankful for that. It's a humbling and beautiful thought. I love moments like that. When God literally gives you the love that he has for others. 
Now I feel that I have a renewed sense of God's longing to draw people to Himself. Emotion isn't everything. We are called to serve God no matter what we feel. But I am so honored to have this bestowed upon me. 
I pray that you truly feel God's love for you. As much as we know about the Lord, we can NEVER know the extent of that extravagant love. It's a pleasure to be called to share that love with those around me. I continue to pray that He will show me the way.