Friday, December 4, 2009

looking back...

I've been thinking I needed to do some sort of wrap-up blog about Uganda (...and have been getting the hint from a few of you...). But I'll be honest, I've kinda been delaying because, well, I don't really know what to say.

It has proven to be harder than I expected to be back. It was weird...I went through this interesting progression: my first night back was just full of excitement for seeing people that I'd missed a lot and at the same time, I almost felt like the whole trip had just been a dream, like I'd never really left. Then Day 2 back in the states was just spent "enjoying" the modern comforts of home - like a hot shower and washing machine. But then by Day 3, that stuff had kinda worn off and it was back to life, back to reality. And to be honest, I just wanted to be back in that little village in the bush of western Uganda.

I would be sitting at my desk at the office and I would just have this endless stream of pictures running through my head of different places and people that I'd fallen in love with on the other side of the world, the people who had stolen my heart. And it was both sad because I miss them terribly and also kinda lonely, ya know? Like no one else could really go there in their head with me. Of course it's no fault of anyone else...it's just how it is. God had to remind me, though, that I was most definitely not alone. His heart beats harder for those people than mine ever will.

I cannot get them out of my mind. And I pray that I never will. They have changed my life. I don't know exactly what to do with that right now. There was this part of me that really wanted to be able to go on this trip and come back with a clear sense of direction - either "Africa is definitely where I'm called to be" or "My place is in the states". But as we know, God doesn't always work that way. And I didn't really come back with a strong sense of one or the other. So I'm going to keep seeking...and keep praying.

I do know this. I am more aware than ever of the desperate need of the people of Uganda. People are often commenting on how" Uganda gets all the hype", "that's where everyone goes", "it's a Christian country so there's not much need there", "we need them more than they need us", etc. But that simply isn't true. The people of Uganda are in desperate need. Yes, they need physical provision, but they are in desperate need of Jesus. There is a lot of darkness and a lot of spiritual warfare in that country. A lot of people who subscribe to Christianity, but know very little about God and have never opened a Bible.

I have also learned that moving to Africa is by no means a cop-out. That may sound crazy to you, but there are some who think that people go to Africa when they can't handle America any more. They think Africa is the "easy way out", as if it's easier to minister and to be close to God there. Again, this simply isn't true. It's just as easy, if not easier, to be distracted from God there. And by no means is it easier to minister there than in the states. There is a whole new set of distractions and struggles that you take on when you move to do ministry in Africa.

I learned an overwhelming amount during my time in Uganda. I still have much to process, much to pray about. Thank you so much to those of you who faithfully prayed and supported and encouraged me while I was there. Please continue to pray for my brother and sister - Matt and Amy - who will continue on in Uganda for the next two months. My heart is still with them there.

And when you get the chance, go to Uganda. You will be changed. :)

Since I had a really hard time uploading pictures to Blogger while I was there, I will leave you with a few of my faves from the trip.
This one's courtesy of Matt Walter...so glad he was there to take pics too!
These girls will always hold a special place in my heart, because they were the first children I really interacted with. They are the girls from the Remember Me orphanage in Mityana. My story from that day is here.
These were three of the first little girls we met in Nyamarwa.
Our first day with the Nyamarwa village children...a day I will definitely never forget.
a few of my favorites...(not that I have favorites...uhhh)

This is Mary. She is the daughter of one of the teachers at Kibbuse, Madam Olivia. Without a doubt one of the most precious little girls I have ever met.

These are the students at one of the primary schools in the Nyamarwa village. 75% of the population in Uganda is under 21...yep.

So we're on the bus on our way from Kampala to Mbale and I look in between the seats in front of us and see this. good grief.
This was one of the most complacent, well-behaved babies I've ever seen. Fell in love with her in a heartbeat.
"Chief" (operations manager at Kibbuse School) and his grandmother. This one is also coming courtesy of Matt Walter...and just might have my vote as the best one of the trip.

I will never forget the sight of their smiles or the sound of their laughs. I don't think there's anything like the children of Africa. They have my heart.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

the final days...

Well…I’m writing this in the Amsterdam airport, so obviously I’m on my way home. But I didn’t get a chance to update over the past few days, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet…(TRY being the key word…)

NOV 24

I spent most of the morning and afternoon working on a newsletter for the parents, students, and graduation ceremony. Tonight we had the “Last Supper” celebration, which is an annual event that they have a couple of nights prior to graduation. They have a meal for the faculty, students, and “graduands” (as they call them here). They girls are all invited to wear a “gomezi” that they’ve made in their tailoring class. Gomezi are these traditional African dresses that have super high-cut shoulders and huge sashes that tie in a big knot in front. And the fancier the fabric, the better. Amy and I found out that the girls also wanted us to wear a gomezi tonight, and of course we couldn’t refuse! When we came out of Amy’s room with those things on, everyone had a crazy fit. And boy when we got a look at ourselves in the mirror, there was definitely a good amount of laughter. Of course to us, we looked completely ridiculous…and here’s why:

…but not to a Ugandan. To a Ugandan, these dresses are a thing of beauty. (Who says “beauty” isn’t defined by your culture?!)

Meanwhile the guys had gotten all dressed up nice and when everyone was ready, the guys all lined up in two lines and the girls all came out of the house and walked through the lines while everyone sang. Adorable…

We had a big meal and then there was a program that included songs from the choir, songs and messages from the graduands, messages from the faculty, and awards given to each graduand. The program didn’t end until around 11:00, but it was so great to be a part of it!

NOV 25

Graduation Preparation Day!

I basically worked on the newsletter and on making a video for graduation all morning and all afternoon. The students and teachers have been working all day on food preparations for tomorrow. They are expecting a lot of people and they serve lunch after the ceremony, so there was much to prepare. I cannot fathom the amount of potatoes and bananas that I have seen today.

WARNING VEGETARIANS: Don’t read the next two paragraphs.

Another interesting thing I saw was a butchered cow out in the field being destroyed by some of the guys for tomorrow’s lunch. Now it’s one thing to see meat hanging in a shop. It’s a whole other thing seeing the full body of a dead cow laying on the ground with men all around it pulling out meat and intestines…and poop. Yes, I actually watched a guy stick half his arm up in there and pull out cow dung. Wonder how someone ends up with that job...

I also did not see but did HEAR the death of more than one chicken today…it truly is a horrible noise. Literally sounds like screams. Anyway, made for a disconcerting yet equally interesting afternoon.

We were working until after midnight printing programs and ironing flags. We later found out that there were some teachers and staff who never went to bed because they were working on food preparation alllll night long. Tomorrow will be quite a production!

NOV 26

Graduation Day!

Today started with quite a stressful morning trying to get everything ready for the day. The ceremony was supposed to start at 10:00 and we still had quite a few “graduands” putting on their caps and gown at 10:30.

Interesting African culture note: Their concept of time is so very different than ours. When someone says, “Let’s meet at 8:00”, it could mean 7:30 or it could mean 9:00, depending on when all of the parties arrive. So when they said graduation was supposed to start at 10:00, it really wasn’t a big deal that we didn’t start until 11:30 because most people didn’t arrive until around noon and some people didn’t even show up until 2:00. It’s so bizarre to me.

By the time everyone got there, I’d say there were a good 250 – 300 people there. The service literally went from 11:30 – 3:30…longest graduation ceremony I’ve ever been too! There was a ton of singing, a ton of talking, and I loved how the certificate presentation went. It wasn’t like in the states where they call a name, someone walks across a stage, and a few people clap (maybe with a whistle or two). No…when they called a graduate’s name, they would start playing music, the student would literally DANCE to the front, receive their certificate, then people would come give the student gifts and hugs. It was amazing.

When the ceremony ended, we all walked back up to the courtyard for lunch. There were massive amounts of food prepared. Of course Matt, Amy, and I had to eat in the house with all of the “important” people, which we always have to do. To be honest, we often just wish we could just eat with everyone else outside, but culture is culture. And in this culture, the “mizungus” are always honored guests, so they always have to be in the seats of honor.

The party then moved back down to the tents. They had rented a sound system and deejay and boy was it a par-tay…I think the whole village showed up! There was dancing for a good 4-5 hours straight…so much fun. There was a little girl and a little boy who each grabbed one of my hands and we spent at least half an hour dancing, with them never once letting go of my hands. I taught them how to twirl and they loved it…one of those special moments that I’ll never forget.

I skyped in to the Robinson Thanksgiving feast tonight and got to speak to the Robinsons, the Minchews AND cousin Ross! It was short but sweet because my connection was lost after a few minutes, but so wonderful to see their faces!

I started packing tonight…and started getting really sad about it.

NOV 27

Today was a day of wrapping things up. This morning we had the Final Assemble with the first and second year students. Each of the teachers had a chance to say some final words to the students and they gave Matt, Amy and me an opportunity to talk. I unexpectedly got really emotional and don’t know if I’ve had to ever fight that hard to keep it together (usually I just let the tears flow, but they’re not super emotional like that in this culture, so I fought like crazy to hold myself together so as to not freak them all out). But it was a great opportunity to tell the students how proud I was of them that they are working so hard for a better life and then get to encourage the teachers and thank them for investing in the lives of the youth of Uganda, then to be able to publicly acknowledge Reverend James, Bob and Brenda for the amazing sacrifices they make for Kibbuse, the students, and the staff. We sang the national anthem one last time, and I couldn’t contain the tears. Then all the mizungus taught them “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”…can’t say I’ve ever sung that song under the hot sun before until today.

This afternoon Matt, Amy and I went out and played some with the village kids (I needed one more good quality afternoon with them). We brought out some candy, played with tennis balls, took pictures (which they LOVE).... then I sat down and about 10 kids came and sat around me, and for about 15 minutes, we just sang songs. We sang some together, they sang some for me, I taught them “Deep and Wide” and “Father Abraham”...another magical moment to add to the books. These children have my heart.

Timothy taught me how to make what has become my favorite African food item – chapati. It’s like this tortilla-type bread thing…delish. And now I can hopefully make it for people back home.

After dinner, we went out to the courtyard area and hung out with some of the teachers and the students that are still here. We taught them “Mighty to Save” and “Hosanna” and we looked at graduation pictures and videos. We had such a great time. It’s amazing how connected you can grow to people after only a short month…especially people with whom it can be very difficult to communicate.

Matt, Amy, and I went on a late-night walk in the field behind the school and had another time of just airing out some of our frustrations and struggles and had a chance to just do some debriefing about the month and praying together. It was a sweet night. I’m not ready to go home.

NOV 28

Travel day. If I have learned anything, it is that traveling in this country is NOT easy. So we went into today expecting a very long day. With Matt, Reverend, and Brenda sharing the back seat of the truck and Amy and me sharing the passenger seat, we didn’t have the most comfortable drive, but what do you expect…it’s Uganda. We had to make what felt like a hundred different stops for various errands on the way, go to meet Reverend’s daughter, Norah, in Mityana, and then took a taxi from there to Kampala (while the truck has some repairs done…).

We ate at an amazing Thai restaurant in Kampala for dinner and then headed to bed…traveling days can really wear you out!

NOV 29

Well…this is it. Last day in country. I’m so not ready for this to be over. In worship during church this morning, I started getting really emotional. We’d be singing and my mind would start replaying an image from this past month and my eyes would immediately well up with tears and I’d have to stop singing and re-gain control. Then I’d start singing and it would happen all over again. I literally thought I was going to have to leave at one point. There’s just so much to think about, so much to process, so much I’ve grown to love, so much I’m going to miss…

After church, Matt, Amy, and I headed to the Garden City mall for some final shopping. We did a sufficient amount of damage…I finished Christmas shopping which I’m very happy about!

We had dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant then had a taxi come pick us up and take us to the airport in Entebbe. It was so special to have everyone there to send me off. I had a very tearful goodbye…so hard to leave.

These people have become so precious to me, and the new level of relationship that I have with Matt and Amy is truly priceless. They are more like brother and sister to me now than ever before. What an amazing thing to have been able to experience this month with them.

Now I’m sitting on the airplane on my way to Amsterdam then on to Detroit and Nashville. I must honestly say that I’m excited to go home and see everyone, but I’m not ready to leave. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was sitting in this same position on the plane, awaiting the month ahead with so much anticipation. I had no idea what it would entail. But this month truly has been more than I could have ever asked or imagined. I have learned an unbelievable amount. My worldview has been shattered. My position on missions has been changed. My view of Africans ahs been altered while my love for them has grown exponentially. There’s so much to process and so much to think about. But I have much to bring home.

Now that I have seen, I am responsible.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

never a dull moment...

Nov 23

Well I suspected that today would be a short, boring entry because it was just a travel day, but I'm starting to learn that I should never expect an uneventful day here. Our driver from Kampala picked Matt, Amy, and me up at around 8:00 this morning. When we arrived in Jinja we requested him to give us a little time at a craft market that we heard was really good there. In only about 45 minutes time we did a sufficient amount of damage at the market...stocked up on some Christmas gifts!

We arrived in Kampala and met Rev James at what is becoming one of our favorite places to eat in Uganda - Javas! You can get all kinds of things there that you can't typically find like cheese and cilantro and real ketchup and most importantly...Diet Coke! So we had a delicious lunch then our driver took us to the bust "station" where we barely missed the first bus so we had to start a second bus which meant sitting on the bus in the heat for an hour until it was completely full. And by that , I mean they don't take off until every single seat in that thing is taken. We did, however make our own excitement...Matt and I ate our first grasshopper (we couldn't convince Amy to do it).

It was fairly awful...the taste wasn't bad. It was more...mmm...the texture. I could actually feel the different parts of it as I crunched it and it was a bit difficult to swallow. But how could you come to Africa and not eat at least one insect, right?!

Anyway, once the bus was totally packed, we took off (around 3:30). What was awesome was that when we hit the edge of town about 10 minutes later, we got stopped at the police check point and after almost TWO hours of sitting on that hot bus crammed full with people, we had to get a new driver (long story as to why...) but we didn't leave Kampla until after 5:00. It was a long, uncomfortable ride to Mubende. It was dark by the time we got there and when we arrived at around 7:45, there was this massive group of merchants standing outside the bus door putting baskets of food in front of our faces trying to get us to buy. It was pretty chaotic. We had to take "boda-bodas" (motorcycles) to another gas station...first experience on a "boda"...was really pretty fun! At the station, Reverend had to work at convincing a local driver to give us a ride to nearby Kikumuro and he allowed us to join the other in the car, which made EIGHT of us in a 6-seater car. After yet another really uncomfortable 45-minute ride, we finally arrived in Kikumuro where Bob met us in the truck.

He took us the rest of the way to Nyamarwa. We had a slight delay on the road because a semi truck had flipped completely over and that kind of accident causes major issues on roads as tiny as these.

We arrived at Kibbuse and had a super late dinner at 10:00. We hadn't eaten since 1:00 so we were a bit hungry.

What a day...left Mbale a little after 8:00 AM and didn't arrive in Nyamarwa until 14 hours, 5 different types transportation, and one grasshopper later. We should sleep fairly well tonight...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

much to say about mbale

I guess I should maybe backtrack a little here and explain why we have chosen to spend a few days back with the Mbale team. During our first whirlwind visit here, we learned a GREAT deal about how much we don’t know and about how much we need to be under/alongside some people who have experience on the field and can help us in decision making, etc. The Mbale Mission Team is truly an answer to prayer. I am not 100% sure what our long-term relationship looks like with them, but I know that there is much that we are excited about (as is our church’s leadership team) as far as their church planting “system” goes. What’s crazy is that they have been praying for other churches to come alongside them as they seek to plant churches across this country and seek to claim this country for God. Their goal is to have at least one church planted in every district of Uganda (I think there are 81 districts). The disctrict in which we are looking to possibly get involved is right in the middle of an area of Uganda where they have no churches. It’s like we were meant to be together! J

Anyway, Matt, Amy, and I (along with our leadership team) determined that it would be extremely beneficial for us to spend more time with the team here in Mbale and just soak up every bit of information that we possibly could about missions, about their projects, about the culture. And boy have we ever been doing that…

NOV 20

Today was yet another day PACKED full of information! My brain is completely fried. I mean, I would have it no other way, but wow…I’m tired.

The day started out with the women’s prayer breakfast at 6:30 at a nearby hotel. All of the women on the Mbale Mission Team meet once a week to spend an hour in prayer. One of the things I have learned beyond a shadow of the doubt is that if I were to decide to do long-term missions, I would absolutely have to do it with a team. There’s just no way that I could do it alone. You have to have some people around you who are coming from the same framework you’re coming from who can support you, encourage you, pray for you, and just have fun with you. The Mbale Mission team spends a lot of time together and are an amazing support system for each other. You just have to have it…and they would all agree with that statement.

After the prayer meeting, the women have breakfast together and then we headed up to MTI for more training! This morning we were given a timeline of the Mbale Mission Team’s history and how all of the programs came to be. Very interesting stuff. It’s amazing how LONG-term their vision is for this place. They have committed that they will go as far and as long as God calls them. They say that they don’t want to limit God with their dreams.

After lunch, we learned about the structure of the Mbale Mission Team and how they function as a group. It’s interesting how they are such a huge ministry and are functioning so well in many areas, but they are still in DESPERATE need – need of money but also a real need for people! Because of the ever-expanding ministry, they are in constant need of more people and more support. As we were discussing all of the various ministries, I asked if they have much going on as far as youth or children’s ministry goes. I know that a HUGE part of the population in this country is under the age of 20, so the need to reach the youth of this country is huge. Interestingly, they don’t have much going on for the youth in all of their programs, and they said that it is definitely toward the top of their priority list. They are in need of someone to come over and begin some sort of youth program within their ministry…hmmmm…

We also had a very condensed version of their “African Friends and Money Matters” training. It is crazy, crazy how polar opposite our ideas of money are from Africans. It’s been good to actually live and interact with people for a few weeks before this training, because it’s helping us to really see and experience the truths of what we are learning.

When I got back to the Tylers, I had an amazing treat awaiting me – a sandwich. I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich. It’s one of the food items that I didn’t realize I’d miss until I didn’t have it. So I piled that thing crazy high with lettuce (which we never have), tomato, cheese (which we also never have), avocado…and savored every single bite.

I spent most of the rest of the night working on our presentation for tomorrow night. I kinda feel like I’m back in college and working on some big group project, but it really was cool to obtain a lot of information on our own as opposed to being “lectured” on it.

My brain is literally worn out.

NOV 21

I forgot to mention that I had prepared to take a shower last night, but as I was reaching in to the shower trying to adjust the water (because we have HOT WATER HERE!!!), I saw out of the corner of my eye, about 4 inches from my face on the shower curtain, a roach that was probably about 2/3 the size of my palm. That thing crawled over the top of the shower curtain and into the shower…I didn’t end up taking a shower last night. J So that was first thing this morning.

Today we got to be part of the 9th Annual MTI (Messiah Theological Institute) Graduation. MTI was birthed out of a need for leadership training. As the team here continues to plant churches all over Uganda (as well as Kenya and Sudan), they must continually be training up leaders to preach and teach. Many courses are designed to equip leaders of church communities (not limited by denomination or tradition) to facilitate the spiritual development of the people around them. It is an ever-growing institution. Last year, the school offered 52 different courses, and the number continues to grow each year.

It really is amazing what all is happening with MTI and even more amazing realizing that my home church in Texas has invested so much into that school. To have the opportunity to see the fruits of that investment has been so awesome.

This morning there were 26 Ugandans and Kenyans who graduated from MTI. These are people who will go back to their homes and their districts to be pastors, teachers, church leaders, and even church planters. The ceremony was really fun to be a part of, and then they served lunch afterward.

Amy and Matt came over to the Tyler’s (where I’m staying) after lunch and we put the final touches on our MTI Presentation. Tonight many members of the team came over for dinner and we grilled out. People brought over all kinds of amazing dishes, but I have to say that my favorite was the Snickerdoodle and Oatmeal No-bake cookies. J

After dinner, we pulled out the guitar and songbooks and sat around the living and sang worship songs. I can’t remember the last time I did that…it was so great. I just love seeing the cohesiveness and the relationships that the team members have with one another…it really feels like family.

After singing, Matt, Amy and I did our presentation on MTI. I will not bore you with what the presentation was about, but thankfully it didn’t appear to bore everyone else too much, so that was a relief! We enjoyed some more hanging out afterward, and by the time everyone was out the door, we were ready to CRASH!

Nov 22

Today we had the opportunity to go with the Tylers for a visit to one of the village churches – one of the hundreds that they have been part of planting.

We were surprised to arrive and see how nice the church was – brick building, cement floors, ELECTRICITY…it was a very nice set-up. Of course, we soon found out that it’s probably theionly church plant that has electricity and one of only four or five of their churches that actually has the money to have a keyboard. Apparently, the church was built by one of the most wealthy men in that area. This man owns a few businesses and is responsible for the building and all of the nice things that the church has. This, of course, means that he has all of the power in that church. He calls all the shots and stood in the back during the whole service and basically regulated everything. You could tell very easily that he was the big man in charge.

Sean later told us that they do not allow him to teach or preach at the church because he has two wives. I guess I haven’t mentioned this yet, but polygamy is a huge issue in Uganda. This goes back to their roots as a country, but it is a huge problem and one of the major issues that the church deals with. But one of the rules that the Mbale church planting team has is that anyone in the church who currently practices polygamy is not allowed to hold any sort of leadership role in that church at all.

We were once again given the seats of honor at the front of the church and treated with all sorts of honor and respect. They asked us to each say a few words to the church. Afterward, they all surrounded us (particuarlly all the little kids) and greeted us and thanked us for coming. The little kids had written notes to give each of us. Here’s what one of mine said:

if that doesn't just make you melt...

After lunch, we were escorted to the “head honchos” home where we were served lunch. Today I had something new…bamboo cooked with banana leaves. It was actually pretty tasty. After lunch, we drove back to Mbale and had a little time to debrief and get some more of the history behind the church we had visited. Really interesting stuff.

Tonight we went to the Community Bible Study school that the Mbale team attends each Sunday night. It is a Bible Study made up of missionaries from all over the area. It was really cool to meet people who had come from literally all over the world to serve God in Uganda. In that room we had Australia, England, Palestine and the United States all represented. It made for a really interesting Bible Study discussion. I am just so thankful that the Mbale team is intentionally doing things to feed themselves while they're on the field. It’s so vital to their own spiritual health and the health of their ministries.

We had an amazing meal after the study and then headed home to pack. It’s back to Nyamarwa tomorrow…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

soooo much to learn....

I guess I should maybe backtrack a little here and explain why we have chosen to spend a few days back with the Mbale team. During our first whirlwind visit here, we learned a GREAT deal about how much we don’t know and about how much we need to be under/alongside some people who have experience on the field and can help us in decision making, etc. The Mbale Mission Team is truly an answer to prayer. I am not 100% sure what our long-term relationship looks like with them, but I know that there is much that we are excited about (as is our church’s leadership team) as far as their church planting “system” goes. What’s crazy is that they have been praying for other churches to come alongside them as they seek to plant churches across this country and seek to claim this country for God. Their goal is to have at least one church planted in every district of Uganda (I think there are 81 districts). The disctrict in which we are looking to possibly get involved is right in the middle of an area of Uganda where they have no churches. It’s like we were meant to be together! J

Anyway, Matt, Amy, and I (along with our leadership team) determined that it would be extremely beneficial for us to spend more time with the team here in Mbale and just soak up every bit of information that we possibly could about missions, about planting churches, about their projects, about the culture. And boy have we ever been doing that…

NOV 20

Today was yet another day PACKED full of information! My brain is completely fried. I would have it no other way, but wow…I’m tired.

The day started out with the women’s prayer breakfast at 6:30 at a nearby hotel. All of the women on the Mbale Mission Team meet once a week to spend an hour in prayer. One of the things I have learned beyond a shadow of the doubt is that if I were to decide to do long-term missions, I would absolutely have to do it with a team. There’s just no way that I could do it alone. You have to have some people around you who are coming from the same framework you’re coming from who can support you, encourage you, pray for you, and just have fun with you. The Mbale Mission team spends a lot of time together and are an amazing support system for each other. You just have to have it…and they would all agree with that statement.

After the prayer meeting, the women have breakfast together and then we headed up to MTI for more training! This morning we were given a timeline of the Mbale Mission Team’s history and how all of the programs came to be. Very interesting stuff. It’s amazing how LONG-term their vision is for this place. They have committed that they will go as far and as long as God calls them. They say that they don’t want to limit God with their dreams.

After lunch, we learned about the structure of the Mbale Mission Team and how they function as a group. It’s interesting how they are such a huge ministry and are functioning so well in many areas, but they are still in DESPERATE need – need of money but also a real need for people! Because of the ever-expanding ministry, they are in constant need of more people and more support. As we were discussing all of the various ministries, I asked if they have much going on as far as youth or children’s ministry goes. I know that a HUGE part of the population in this country is under the age of 20, so the need to reach the youth of this country is huge. Interestingly, they don’t have much going on for the youth in all of their programs, and they said that it is definitely toward the top of their priority list. They are in need of someone to come over and begin some sort of youth program within their ministry…hmmmm…

We also had a very condensed version of their “African Friends and Money Matters” training. It is crazy, crazy how polar opposite our ideas of money are from Africans. A few examples:

  1. Money is to be spent before friends or relatives ask to borrow it.
  2. If something is not actively being used, it is considered available.
  3. Budgeting, in a formal sense, is not an accepted way of handling personal finances.
  4. A network of friend is a network of resources.
  5. A loan is eligible to be repaid when the creditor's need becomes greater than the debtor's need.
And the list goes on from there...the handout received listed 62 different observations about African cultural values and provides a counter Western value. Very interesting stuff...and stuff we have already been experiencing as truth here. It’s been good to actually live and interact with people for a few weeks before this training, because it’s helping us to really see and experience the truths of these statements.

After training, Matt, Amy, and I spent some time working on our presentation for our MTI Research. When I got back to the Tylers, I had an amazing treat awaiting me – a sandwich. I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich. It’s one of the food items that I didn’t realize I’d miss until I didn’t have it. So I piled that thing crazy high with lettuce (which we never have), tomato, cheese (which we also never have), avocado…and savored every single bite.

I spent most of the rest of the night working on our presentation for tomorrow night. I kinda feel like I’m back in college and working on some big group project, but it really was cool to obtain a lot of information on our own as opposed to being “lectured” on it.

My brain is literally worn out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

a bit of a shock to the system...

NOV 19

Today was a challenging, exciting, inspiring, overwhelming…and in the end, a hard day. My entire view of Africa and those who live here has been shaken to the core. I have to share something that may make some people sad…maybe even a little upset. But I’m sharing what I am starting to believe more and more while being here…and it’s something that I’ve now heard straight from the mouth of Americans who have lived in this area for almost 30 years. It’s hard to argue with that.

I have somewhat been subscribing to this idea of “I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me”. Some westerners (which used to include myself) may believe that although Africans may not have the material possessions that we have, they have the things that really matter – joy, peace, faith, selflessness, community. And we may start to think that in reality, we need the things that they have more than they need the things that we have. Today I learned that my perspective of what they “have” is not entirely accurate.

We have basically been bombarded with information today from the Mbale team. First of all, Matt, Amy, and I have been asked to do a bit of a research project ourselves about the Messiah Theological Institute here, and we will be giving a presentation to the Mbale team at the end of our time here. So we started working some on that project almost immediately upon our arrival to MTI this morning.

Later this afternoon I sat through a cultural orientation which Shawn Tyler and Philip Sharo gave us. Philip has been here 11 years and Shawn has been here 28 years…they know their stuff. It completely knocked my socks off. There is entirely too much information for me to include here, but the thing that has really altered my thinking about Africans as a whole is that when we look at them, we really only see their external actions. But behind every action is a value and behind every value is a truth. Many mission teams come in and simply try to change the actions but never change the core truths of a society. That’s why they say that in Africa, Christianity is a mile wide and an inch thick. There are many who claim to be Christians, but there is very little depth to their faith and their beliefs (…sound familiar?).

Anyway, to know the reasons behind the way people act, we must first determine what they value and eventually get down to what they believe is true. And the values and truths of Africans are very different than the values and truths of Americans, particularly American Christians. At their very core, we learned that the basic truth under which Africans operate is that life is cyclical. It’s way too long to explain here, but what it boils down to is that they believe that what happens on earth is determined by the spiritual powers of the “living dead”…or basically spirits of people who have died. This is why witchcraft is such a huge issue in Africa and it has a major impact on what they value and on how they live. It’s a long explanation as to how these connect, but because of this core truth, a couple of their major core values are respect and the “appearance” of relationship. They live by this idea of “give respect and get something back”. So their actions are driven by this idea…this is why you see such amazing hospitality, welcoming words, people kneeling, people appearing to live at peace with each other, people appearing to love and care for one another. To us Americans, it appears that they are living such godly, selfless lives (and of course some of them genuinely are), but it’s because we are looking at them through our grid of values and truth. For many Africans, these actions are driven by the belief that when you respect others, you will get something back or you will be blessed.

I asked if Philip and Shawn were basically saying that what we see is a fa├žade and in reality, there are selfish motives behind these things that appear so good and godly from the outside. The sad answer to this question was “yes”. And there are two reasons why I tend to believe this is true:

1. This is coming from people who have been here for almost 30 years.

2. It has been hard for me to understand how Africans could truly be displaying the fruits of the spirit in such abundance when in actuality, many of these people don’t actually HAVE the Holy Spirit, don’t know anything about God, haven’t surrendered their lives to them, and don’t have any sort of personal relationship with Him.

So Philip made this very poignant statement: “How could you expect to come into a country where there is VERY little God but expect to see TRUE joy, peace, and selflessness? You cannot truly have those things apart from God. So what you see is the appearance of joy and peace and selflessness, but the reality is that often, it is only the APPEARANCE of these things, and in the end, they are marked by selfish motivations.”

It makes sense…I may struggle with having what appears to me is the joy and patience and selflessness of the people here. But the reality is that I know Jesus and I know the freedom and the LIFE that comes from being in relationship with Him. Many, MANY, people in this country do not have that. They are simply living in a culture that tells them to live at peace with people, respect people so that you can get something in return, and make sure that whatever you do, you protect the appearance of your relationship with others.

NOW I MUST CLARIFY SOMETHING HERE: I don’t want it to sound as if I’m saying all Africans are just selfish and none of their external actions are pure. Many of them have true joy and love that comes from the Spirit. Many of them have a deep and vibrant faith. And many of them are truly genuine people in love with the Lord. I’m just saying we can’t look at them from our American “grid” and take everything at face value. Maybe our African brothers and sisters are in much greater need than we have realized (…or maybe it’s just more than what I realized). Maybe they need what we have (and by that, I mean Jesus) much more than we need what they have. By no means does this mean that we are superior…it simply means that they need Jesus.

It’s been a somewhat sad realization for me…like someone just popped my little happy balloon. But it is the tough reality. And one that I’m very thankful to be learning.

During the late afternoon, we attended the youth gathering which Shawn facilitates each week at the Mbale Church. When they say “youth” here, it can mean anyone from 13 years old to 28 years old. So apparently, I’m still a “youth” here! J Shawn had Matt, Amy, and I sit in front and told the kids to ask us anything and everything that they want to ask. And as Matt said, they weren’t exactly throwing us softballs. They asked about marriage and dating and sex and they asked about the problems that youth in America are facing and what advice we would give them as youth of Uganda…really great questions.

We had dinner tonight with two of the Ugandan missionaries that work with the Mbale team – James and Noeli Luchivya. Noeli prepared an amazing meal for us then they walked us through their “steps” program on the process of planting a church in Uganda. They basically have this organization that is an umbrella under which all of the church plants fall called the New Testament Churches of Christ. And basically when someone wants to plant a church under that umbrella, they have a distinct list of steps that must be followed before they consider it an established church. It includes multiple seminars and teachings on the basics of faith and what it means to be a follower of Christ and also involves the preacher/teacher of that congregation having biblical training at MTI. The process is a really great one, and makes sure that all of the churches are unified in their core beliefs.

James and Noeli are amazing…they are an awesome picture of two people who have been trained up and discipled by this mission team and are now going out and making disciples all over this country. They are basically in charge of the entire rural development program now. Awesome story.

I’m learning more and more about how much I don’t know...

Friday, November 20, 2009

rarely a dull moment...


This little girl's name is Mary. She is the daughter of one of the teachers at the Kibbuse school named Madam Olivia. I love her.

I'm playing a little catch-up on the ol' blog, so bear with me here...

NOV 17
Today turned into quite the interesting day...

We took two truckfuls of people to Kikumoro for a Bible study training seminar. And when I say "truckfuls", I mean like 7 people in the cab made for 5 people and 11-12 people sitting in the bed of the truck. It was basically a seminar training people on the basics of how to lead a small group Bible study. It was a good training, but what was NOT so good was when it got to be noon, then 1:00, then 2:00, then 3:00...and no lunch. The seminar ended and we soon found out that the seminar leaders had requested us to have lunch at 1:00 but the hosts didn't even go to buy the food until 1:00. So we were served "lunch" when the seminar ended at 4:00.

Matt, Amy, and I were taken into the church reverend's home for lunch and after eating, Bob and Brenda left to take the first truckload of people back. We stayed in the house to talk with people a little more and eventually decided to go back out because we knew the truck would soon be back for the second load. And when we walked outside, we saw no one - no teachers, no students...no one from Kibbuse. We couldn't imagine where any of them would've gone.

So we walked into town, found no one, walked back to the church and waited...and waited...and waited. No one. And of course our cell phone were getting no coverage in that area so we couldn't call anyone. We had waited for a good couple of hours with no sign of anyone from our village. I'm not gonna lie...I started getting a little worried. Especially when it started getting dark. We decided to walk back into town to try and find a phone. While standing in the middle of town trying to get through to someone, we turned and saw that blessed red truck coming down the street with a bed full of people. We were quite happy to see them, needless to say.
But the excitement of the evening wasn't over.

It had rained hard that afternoon, so the roads were awful. The first stuck car we came across forced us to go completely off the side of the road to where we were almost completely on our side. Matt said if we'd driven another 6 inches, we would've tipped over. It forced everyone in the back to jump out of the truck.

Toward the last half of the drive, we found ourselves face-to-face with a big truck that had gotten stuck. Once again, everyone had to jump out and we had to try numerous "routes" of getting around that thing. We were halfway in the ditch with the other half in the grass and bushes (on a steep hill at that).

Needless to say, there were plenty of cheers and applause when we got on the other side of that truck. Something I've noticed: with all of the uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, and difficult situations we've found ourselves in, you never hear any of the Ugandans complain or gripe. They typically just laugh their way through it all. Amazing the way it changes a situation.

NOV 18

We had to get up early this morning, because it's off to Mbale we go!...one end of the country to the other.

We left Nyamarwa at around 7:30 AM and headed to a nearby town with Bob and James. On the way, we stopped to pick up this little boy who James was taking to the hospital in Kampala. Apparently this little boy has been having eye problems (bad vision, itching, watering) for the past year or two and none of the local physicians have been able to figure out what's wrong. I fell in love with this little boy almost immediately. I don't think we got a word out of him the entire day, but we did catch a couple of smiles. He was perfectly well behaved and had the sweetest eyes. I'm anxious to hear what the doctors said.

We arrived at Mityana (Bob's stopping place) and the rest of us boarded a taxi to Kampala. Taxis here are not like taxis in the states. Taxis are like these mini vans that are supposed to seat around 15 but we crowded at least 17 in. They're known to be quite a wild ride, but our driver took it easy on us.

When we got to Kampala, all chaos ensued. It was worse than the first day when we came. It was just this massive mangled mess of vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, and people all over the streets. There was no order whatsoever. And we got stuck in a jam where literally people were just turning off their cars in the middle of the street waiting to move. It was hot, loud, and I was ready to get out of there.

We eventually made it to our car rental place where we had a car and a driver ready to take us the rest of the way to Mbale. We dropped the little boy and Rev James off at the doctor, grabbed a DELICIOUS lunch at Java's (had some good ol' American food...) and then took off on the 3 hour voyage to Mbale.

We arrived at our hotel in Mbale right around the time it was getting dark. We were ecstatic to find that our hotel has hot water...I'm about to take the longest hot shower of my life....

Monday, November 16, 2009

oh...the kids

NOVEMBER 15

At breakfast, Bob asked if I would be willing to share a brief message/testimony at church this morning. So I had just a few minutes to gather my thoughts and then we headed off to the little evangelical church in the village. It is held in a little mud hut and their drums and some of their benches were borrowed from the Kibbuse school. I love the church services here. I love their simplicity and to be honest, I find their slight disorganization refreshing. They don’t have to have everything perfectly planned out and coordinated. They don’t even start or end at an exact time…definitely a completely different experience that what we’re used to back in the states.

I spoke about John 10:10 and how even though I had grown up in the church and had a great family, my enemy had worked to steal my peace and joy and fulfillment and it wasn’t until I went to college that I learned about the life to the full that Jesus offers. I talked about how the biggest thing that turned my life around was when I started spending DAILY time in the Word and talking with God. So that was my challenge and encouragement to them.

The offering was once again quite entertaining. Those who didn’t have money brought fruit and various produce to be auctioned off and the biggest surprise was when a little boy walked right up the aisle with a little baby goat. There were cheers and applause because apparently it had been well over a year since anyone had offered a goat. It ended up being auctioned off to Chief for 16,000 shillings.

Tonight we were able to make contact with people back home and were able to be skyped in to church and hear a good 2/3 of Bobby’s sermon about their trip here (our connection was pretty bad…). It was an awesome sermon, and it’s obvious that the trip had a big impact on Bobby and the men that were here. You just can’t come here and not be changed…I really do think it’s impossible.

I was also SO excited to talk to Jill, John Mark, and Riley Robinson for a bit on Skype. Again the reception was really bad, but at least I got to see their faces and hear their voices…made my heart happy. I really do miss everyone back home!

NOVEMBER 16

Matt, Amy, and I were asked to share a little at chapel, so we all shared a verse or two that has meant a lot to us personally. I talked about Prov. 16:9 and Rom. 8:28 and how God has often led me to places outside of all my own plans but that in all things He has been working for my very for my very best.

Amy and I went with Madam Olivia and Mary Grace to see their knitting machine and watch them in action. That is definitely one interesting contraption! I went with Madam Olivia and Madam Hope to the Niyamarwa Primary School down the street to take some pictures of kids modeling in the school sweaters that they have made. Brenda asked me to work on a flyer that they could use to promote their knitting business, so we needed a few pictures for the flyer.

I tell you what...the kids around here just about have me ruined. They have completely stolen my heart. There were probably at least 150 kids outside singing and dancing and laughing and playing when we walked up (pictured above). Their principal called them over and all those kids just came charging at us. I took pictures of them and they would all just about smother me trying to see the pictures. I LOVE the noise they make when they see the pictures...it's adorable.

We got some pictures of kids modeling the sweaters, signed the guest book (which, by the way, we are asked to do anywhere we've gone, whether it be a home or a school...everyone has a guest book).

Matt, Amy, Timothy and I spent a good hour or two playing cards, I took an ice cold shower, and then we just hung out for a bit after dinner and headed to bed early. We have an early morning tomorrow!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

a little taste of home!

NOVEMBER 13

Today was cooking day! Matt, Amy and I have been planning to cook a Mexican food meal for everyone and today our new friend, Mandy, from Karagusa is coming to spend the evening with us, so we decided that there would be no better night than tonight!

This morning, Brenda and I cooked a chocolate cake (from scratch, of course…no Betty Crocker cake-in-a-box here…), and I learned that cooking from scratch in Uganda is different than cooking from scratch in the U.S., to say the least. You have to be much more creative and resourceful in your cooking here. Cooking MEXICAN food from scratch proved to be even more of a challenge. So when I say we made refried beans from scratch, for example, I mean like we started by peeling the beans that had come straight from the garden. And our “chips” were chapate bread cut into triangles and baked until they were crispy. Thankfully, we were able to make what I believe is the most important part of any Mexican food meal – guacamole – because avocados are quite popular here. We also made pico de gallo, Mexican rice, and Brenda made this amazing mango relish. We had large round pieces of chapate bread so that people could make soft tacos…I must say, it was delish…and it was kinda nice to get a little taste of home. We called it our Mefrican dinner.

It was the first time Reverend James and Timothy had ever had Mexican food, and they loved it! We just had a great evening together, filled with a lot of laughter. At the end of the night, Timothy said, “I will remember this night for forever.” Adorable.

NOVEMBER 14

Last night, Matt, Amy, and I invited anyone who wanted to join us for a walk to one of the nearby hills to watch the sunrise. We really only expected 4 or 5 people to actually get up that early, but at 5:30 AM we went to the meeting place and literally every student (including Rev James and Madam Hope and Olivia) showed up! We were quite impressed.

Besides the absolutely incredible sky full of stars, it was PITCH black on our walk there and up the hill but slowly it started getting lighter and lighter and a haze started appearing in the between the hills…it was beautiful. Eventually the sun rose and it was amazing. We had a great time singing and praying and laughing on the hill…such a great morning.

Most of my morning was spent putting together a movie of pictures and video of the students and the teachers to show them tonight. It cracks us up how much Ugandans LOVE to have their picture taken…as soon as you snap the pic, you have a crowd of people around you wanting to see it – even people who aren’t in the picture! So we thought they would love to see a video of themselves.

Amy and I went out this afternoon and started making hemp/thread bracelets…and after the first half hour or so, a few students joined us and then some of the village children. We made bracelets for 4 and a half hours! They loved them.

After diner, we showed the students (and a few of the teachers) the video we’d put together. It started with about 5 guys out there, and pretty soon everyone on campus had come outside to watch it. I had to put my computer up high so they could all see it. After watching it, they all asked to see it a second time. They were just laughing and laughing both times through! I leaned over to Matt and Amy at one point and said it was one of the cutest things I’d ever seen. They just looked like one big happy family all crowded around this little screen and having so much fun together. The students here are really starting to capture my heart.

I realized today that I have officially met the half way mark for my time here. I can’t believe it. I’m already dreading leaving here. When we were making bracelets with the kids this afternoon I told Amy, “Man am I gonna ever wish for moments like this whenever I get home!”. I’m afraid that I’m going to really start falling in love with the students here at about the same time that I’m going to have to leave.

Ahhhh…November 29, slow down!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Uganda Diaries - Part VIII


When I was younger and used to visit my grandparents in the summer, I would write letters to my parents detailing literally every single thing I did - including everything I ate for breakfast and the details of every book I read. I realized that my Uganda blog posts are turning into the same thing, so I've decided to tone it down on the play-by-play of every single day and just talk about the highlights.

Nov 11
This afternoon, Amy, Matt, and I took all of the kids t-shirts that people from Harpeth had donated and we went out to the open field behind the school to hand them out. We went out and there was only one kid on a swing. Then within probably 10 minutes, we had well over 50 kids (and a few moms) crowding around us trying to get a shirt. Most of these little kids were literally wearing tatters, so it was such a blessing to watch them put on a whole article of clothing. The kids were ecstatic. They were jumping around and shrieking and laughing in their new shirts. After we handed out all the shirts we had, we brought out a couple of tennis ball and almost all the kids were on one side of the field while Matt, Amy, and I stood on the other end and threw the tennis balls in the air while they all tried to catch them, racing around and tackling each other, laughing their heads off the whole time. Amazing.
Later this afternoon, Brenda and Bob asked the 3 of us to attend their faculty/staff meeting. It lasted a good couple of hours and the two topics on which we probably spent the most time were:
  1. how the students always take all the food before the teachers get any
  2. what they were going to do about how the hoes always end up missing
...neither of them things that you'd hear discussed at a school staff meeting in the U.S.
Amy taught me how to play backgammon tonight...we needed a little "escape". Matt, Amy, and I had a really good talk tonight and spent some time praying. As amazing as our experience has been here, there are things that have been hard and have been frustrating and we just needed some time to put things into perspective and pray that God would just use us as He sees fit, remove our selfishness, and give us His heart for the people...

Nov 12

I was asked to speak this morning at chapel about the importance of studying the Bible, which of course was not something I could turn down. So I got to speak to the students and the staff about what the Bible has meant to me, how it has changed my life, and how vital it is that they be in the Word. After I was finished speaking, one of the teachers stood up and thanked me then said that he has wanted to be a better student of the Word and has a lot of questions and wondered if I would be willing to discuss them with him. How could I say no to that?! Amy and I talked with him some after chapel and he said that he’s been wanting to get saved but just has a lot of questions. He also said that he’s been failing at following the Bible. Unfortunately, he had to hurry to get to class but I’m really hoping that Matt, Amy, and I can have a chance to meet with him again.

This morning, Amy and I started a project with one of the students, Ida. They recently bought mosquito nets for the beds in the dorms and we had to do a lot of cutting and tying and hanging of nets. It’s quite a project and we barely put a dent in it today.

Tonight after dinner, Matt, Amy and I went for a walk out in the field behind the school. It was PITCH black. We of course had flashlights but every once in a while, we would turn our lights off and it was crazy how dark it was out there. What’s even crazier is that there are a few families who live along the edge of that field in tiny mud huts with no electricity or water, so we could hear the sound of little children’s voices but obviously couldn’t see them.

It’s kinda crazy to think about how those little kids really don’t know anything outside of what they’ve always had. We tend to feel so sorry for them because they don’t have lights and TV and warm showers, but fact is, they don’t really know what it’s like to live in that kind of ease. All they know is that they’ve always had. Fact is, we probably feel a lot more sorry for them than they do for themselves. Of course, it doesn’t diminish their poverty and doesn’t change the fact that they are in physical need. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean…just an observation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

you never know...

NOVEMBER 9

This morning Amy and I set out to do some good ol’ fashioned hand-washing-in-a-tub laundry…our first experience doing that. We felt a little ridiculous having to ask (and re-ask) how exactly to do it. I mean…it’s soap, water, fabric softener, and a line with clothespins…how complicated could it be, right? Either way, we felt quite accomplished after finishing our loads.

After lunch we had a meeting with Bob and Brenda to lay out a game plan for the rest of our time here. It really is amazing how much there is to do here. They are terribly under-staffed and are just in desperate need of man-power. But we basically laid out a list of things that needed to get done and did a little dividing up of responsibilities.

One of my main responsibilities is going to be researching some ways that the school could start some income-generating activities – specifically their “knitting business” that they recently started. Another of my responsibilities is to encourage and talk to the girls about the importance of studying the Bible. I’m trying to help set the stage for what they’re wanting to start at the school next term – small group Bible studies. Exciting stuff! If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that there is a HUGE need for discipleship in this country. There are so many people who believe in and even love God, but so few actually know or study the Bible. So I’m excited to help in kicking off these Bible studies. The rest of the day was really just spent doing things around the compound.

Side note: there was a near tarantula-sized spider hanging out in my room when I got in tonight. Pretty sure I’ll never get used to those.

NOVEMBER 10

I love that you never know what each day is going to hold here. I ended up traveling with Bob, Matt, Madame Olivia and “Chief” (both teachers at Kibbuse) to Karagusa where they had some errands to run. Brenda wanted me to have a chance to talk to Olivia about the knitting business that they’re trying to use to generate some income. I was asked to kinda take a look at what they’re doing and offer suggestions for improvement and help determine whether or not it’s even profitable to keep it running. I got to talk to Olivia quite a bit on the ride over and then got to walk with her to a couple of the schools to whom they had sold some sweaters for the students. It’s crazy how very different businesses run in rural Uganda as opposed to the U.S. When people don’t use the internet and don’t use any sort of banking system, it really changes everything. Running a successful business is really difficult here.

On the way to Karagusa the truck started making crazy noises, so they ended up taking it to a little shop in the village where they had to work on it for 3 hoursssss….

So while we were waiting on the car, Matt, Olivia and I walked to a local school where Olivia wanted to do some advertising for their sweater business. On our walk we met up with this girl, named Mandy, from America who is in the Peace Corps and has been living here since February. She is single, in her mid-twenties, and committed to living 27 months by herself in a house with no running water or electricity in a remote Ugandan village. I honestly have no idea how she does it. But she was just awesome and I’m really hoping that Amy and I might be able to hang out with her some…give her some fellow Mizungu company, which she rarely gets.

Matt, Chief, and I also went to the market while waiting on the car to be repaired. We had bought a box of crackers as our lunch and I started handing them out to some of the village children. When I would give one of them a cracker, they would kneel in front of me and bow. I didn’t know what they were doing, but Chief said that they were showing their appreciation and respect by bowing. It was both adorable and really uncomfortable. Gah, I love the kids here.

I had a couple of encounters with what the natives call “mad-men”. They would come up to just yelling and saying things that made no sense…a little unnerving.

We went back to the car repair place and hung out in the gas station for a while then hung out in the back alley (I know…shady) and eventually they finished with the car and we headed back to Nyamarwa. On the way back, I learned the Ugandan National Anthem from Olivia and Chief which was very exciting. I had so much fun getting to know Olivia better today…she is SUCH a joy!

I immediately took a (freezing cold) shower and then we had dinner. The local food is really growing on me…I mean, I’m not gonna lie – I am already excited about having some Blue Coast Burrito when I get home, but I’m really developing a taste for the food here.

I can’t believe I have already been in Uganda for 10 days…which means 1/3 of my time here has already passed. I’m already getting sad about November 29.

Monday, November 9, 2009

crazy week!

November 7 - We started early this morning because we have quite a road trip ahead of us. We met up with the rest of the group at the Messiah Theological Institute in Mbale (where they train church planters and leaders). Shawn Tyler gave us a tour of the campus and then we got a tour of Good News Productions office (led by our new friend, Vince), where they are using media in this area in all kinds of really cool ways to evangelize. We then were taken to the church in Mbale where the mission team there attends (a church they planted). It was really cool to actually get to see all of these places that I've heard about for years! Shawn, Vince, and Joy (Vince's wife) then took us out to the land they've recently purchased for the building of a university in Mbale. We got to see their plans for the campus and hear their vision for what is to come. So awesome.
We then had to bid them a speedy farewell since we had many miles ahead of us. We knew this was only goodbye for now. I think this is only the beginning of a potentially long relationship with them, which just makes me so excited! I would never have dreamed that Harpeth could end up working alongside my home church from Texas...so crazy.
We made the looonnnng 9-hour trip back to Karaguuza where we met up with Bob, Brenda, and Rev. James for dinner and one final meeting to talk about the next steps in our potential relationship with them. This was our last night with Bob, Lonnie, and David so we had to get a bit of a gameplan together. We ended up getting room and staying out at their hotel...we were wiped out!

November 8 - So today we went to a church service at the Anglican church in Karaguuza where Lonnie's friend, Bishop Nathan, was coming for the confirmation of about 100 young people. The service was quite a production! When we drove up to the church, everyone was already lined up awaiting the Bishop's arrival, and when his car arrived, there were cheers and singing and waving...pretty cool. Then our group ended up going to a house nearby where a feast had been prepared to celebrate Bishop Nathan's coming. After the meal, we all went over to the church for the service. The church was completely packed and there were a ton of people who had to watch from the windows and the doors. There so many people there. The bishop made a grand entrance down the aisles (felt like a parade) and then they proceeded into an almost 4-hour service...wow. I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't sad when we had to get up after the first two hours to leave. The guys had to start their drive to Entebbe because of their flight. So Matt, Amy, and I ended up hanging out outside of the church for the last two hours. There were like a million kids out there. I still have not ceased to be amazed at how many children are here. It honestly feels like they outnumber the adults a good 5 to 1.
They followed us around in masses and like if we sat down somewhere, they would just all crowd around and stare at us. I leaned over to Matt at one point and said, "I feel like we're on display at a museum or something". They just don't see too many "mizungus" around here. Ahhh but they're so sweet and so cute. I love them more and more.
Bob and Brenda came out of the service and said they were going to start taking truckloads of people back home to Niyamarwa. They were going to have to make at least 3 trips back and forth to get everyone back home. So we all got in the truck along with a back end full of little kids. They endured the tough ride back home (which included a good deal of rain) with so much fun and laughter. Those kids sang almost the whole 45 minute ride back. Man....I envy their joy.
Anyway, we got back and have just been hanging around the house and getting a few things done here. Lonnie, David, and Bobby should be in the air by now. It will be weird without them here now, but we're looking forward to being planted for a bit here in Nyamarwa. It's been an INSANE week...
stay tuned!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

an unexpected, amazing evening!

NOV 6

Wow…what a day.

Craziest story: my home church in Lubbock, TX has had missionaries over in Eastern Uganda ever since before I was born. I have known about all of the work they’ve been doing in Mbale and I have had close friends who have lived over there (including my best friend who lived there for a year). In fact, I would say that my heart for Uganda began when I was a little girl because of the work that my home church has been doing there for so many years.

Before this trip, I had looked to see where we would be living in comparison to Mbale and it was basically on the other side of the country. So I was a little bummed that there was probably no way that I would be able to make it over there to see any of them.

At dinner last night, I heard Lonnie and Bobby talking about wanting to go visit some people in the Mbale district, which got me kinda excited because I knew how close that was to where so many of my friends had lived (and were currently living!). As the conversation progressed throughout the night, I heard them talking about how the people they were wanting to meet are some people who have a training school for church planters from a Church of Christ, which got me even more interested, because I knew that’s what my Texas church was involved in. And when Lonnie said the guy’s name was Shawn, I was like, “uhhh…you’re not talking about Shawn Tyler, are you?!”…and yes, you guessed it…it was the exact same group of people that my home church from Texas has been supporting for almost 30 years…my FAMILY from childhood.

C-R-A-Z-Y

So long story short: we headed to Mbale today to meet with people I have known since I was born. It was an insane 8-hour trip to get there, but we had no idea how worth it that trip would be.

We arrived in Mbale at around 5:00 PM and went straight to Shawn and Linda Tyler’s house to meet with them. It was just so great to see them again. I got caught up on all of the happenings with the missionaries from my home church, and also just got to catch up on life with them. But pretty much as soon as we sat down in their living room, Bobby started grilling Shawn with questions. J It was unbelievable how much helpful information, advice, and questions Shawn was able to shoot back at us. Soon many other members of their team arrived (including Philip Sharo, who is another guy that I’ve heard about for years but never had a chance to meet) and we had an amaaaaazing Texas barbecue meal! They totally spoiled us with barbecue beef, cole slaw, and potato salad…and don’t forget the sweet tea! It’s like we had been temporarily transported back home…so great. And then chocolate cake and coffee for dessert. We tried to soak in every morsel of food, because we sure aren’t typically eating like that!

The rest of the night was spent in their living room and we were soaking up LOADS of information from their team. They had so much helpful advice and wisdom to share with us. Shawn and Linda have been doing ministry in East Africa for 28 years, so it is crazy how much they have learned in their time here. They are a super well-oiled machine. They have 3 permanent families along with about 4 singles here working with them along with interns and other short-term visitors. They have 3 major ministries along with lots of other small side ministries. They have been part of planting hundreds of churches in Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan. It’s amazing how much God has done through them…and it’s interesting because I’ve heard about all of these different ministries since I was a little girl, but it’s not until I’m here and seeing it in this culture that I can really understand how awesome they are. We have so, so much to learn from them. A few specific things I will take from tonight (among hundreds…):

  • We’ve heard about (and seen) the high population of children here, but we were told that 75% of Ugandans are under the age of 20! That’s crazy…but it means that the need for people to reach the children and youth of this country is absolutely vital.
  • Islam has targeted Uganda as one of its main focuses. And it is systematically taking over villages and towns by building all sorts of infrastructure (schools, stores, restaurants, etc) in order to bring people in. There is a major need for people to come and fight the infiltration of Islam in this country.
  • Don’t limit God by your plans. This was said by someone on the Mbale team tonight. We come in to mission work – or ANY work for that matter – with all of these plans on how long and what we’ll do and what it will look like when it’s done and then God will do all kinds of things that take us away from our “plans”. We have to be so open to that. And we have to stop planning in a way that doesn’t allow for flexibility. You will often end up doing things you didn’t think you’d be doing and the end “product” ends up looking totally different than what you’d imagined. But God’s ways are so much higher and greater than our own.

I was starting to go down a certain way of thought in my own personal philosophy of missions before this trip, and I would say that my way of thinking was absolutely challenged tonight. It’s hard to argue with people who have been doing this for 30 years. And it’s even harder to not get FIRED UP after listening to them for 4 hours share their vision for this country. We were so encouraged and challenged by our time with them. In fact, Bobby and Lonnie want Matt, Amy, and I to come back at some point and spend more time with them, just soaking up everything we possibly can. I think it’s safe to say that if Uganda is where Harpeth decides to plant itself, we will be closely working with the missionaries in Mbale, no matter what region we may be planted. They know what they are doing and as Elias (our driver) said after our time with them: “They know Africa”.

It’s just SO CRAZY to see my worlds colliding in this way. My church in Lubbock, TX meeting up with my church in Franklin, TN and now talking about potential partnership in a little country in East Africa…it’s just totally crazy to me.

We stayed up talking to them until after midnight…there’s SO much to digest and to think about after tonight’s discussion. I’m hoping that sleep won’t be TOO hard to come by tonight…

Friday, November 6, 2009

a hard one...

WOOHOO!!! Finally got one picture up! Took like 15 minutes to upload...so yeah, you're not gonna be seeing many until I'm back in the states...

Nov 5 - Woke up this morning, and PRAISE GOD, Amy and Matt were feeling much better. Thanks to all of you for your prayers for them!
However, we got very sad news before we left town. One of the male students at the Kibbuse school came to Bob and Brenda to tell them he'd just found out that his father had died. He needed to go home for the burial so they paid for public transportation to get him home. It's weird, because there just really wasn't a huge deal made out of it...it's a common thing. People die here a lot. It was only the beginning of what was going to be a difficult day.
Today we traveled to a town called Hoima, which is one of the larger towns in the country and is about 3 hours away from Niyamarwa. When we arrived we met a good friend of Lonnie's and Bob's named Thad Cox, who is an American who's been very involved in the development of this area. A woman who works with Thad also met us as well as a little baby named Grace. Grace was absolutely ADORABLE...(pictures soon to come). Apparently, Baby Grace was found left for dead in a grassy area and when they found her, she was basically just skin and bones. Now she is a healthy baby with big ol' chubby cheeks. She fell asleep in my arms at lunch...wonderful.
After lunch, we were taken to the Hoima Hospital. We were given a tour of the campus and some of the buildings. I was not prepared for what I was going to see.
First of all, this was what is considered a "second tier" hospital, which means that there is only one hospital in all of Uganda that is of better quality. But when I went in to these buildings, I was just overwhelmed.
We first went in to the building where they house those who have accidents, so we saw burn victims and we saw people who had broken bones, etc. One particular girl's story just broke my heart: First of all, every child at the hospital has to have two (outside) caretakers with them or they are not able to be treated and given the care they need. Well this little girl (probably around 7 or 8 years old) had been badly burned on her leg and had some sort of procedure done. Apparently there had been some disputes among family members regarding the accident, and both of her parents ended up leaving her there alone. With no caretakers present, this girl was unable to get the proper care and she ended up developing staph infection in her leg. Now they may have to amputate her entire leg. At the very least, she is going to lose a couple of her toes. It was heartbreaking. There were many other people lying around with huge bandages wrapped around their feet or their arms and you could see blood seeping through the bandages. And we heard other stories...stories that you just don't hear in the U.S.
We also went into the children's ward where we were literally walking through a sea of people and crying children. We were told that most of the cases there were malaria. It was unbelievable just looking around at the babies laying all over the cement floor sweating, crying, and writhing in pain and wondering how many of them would survive the illness. In children under the age of five, malaria can be especially deadly. I had to bite my lip hard as we left that building...I was on the verge of losing it in front of a lot of people.
The last building we went to was the gynecological ward. Amy and I were actually taken into a "labor room" where a woman was having labor pains...quite a thing to see, to say the least. I was pretty anxious to get out of that room. As we passed by a bed with a newborn laying on it, i couldn't help but look at that little baby and just be saddened by the difficulties that were ahead for it living in this environment. And I could just imagine that there is a little newborn baby laying somewhere in the states, and neither of these babies had any say as to where they were born or where they would grow up. But one will be living in comfort and ease while the other will be living in hardship. But really...as Matt Chandler says, we are all "cut from the same cloth" aren't we? Or to quote another..."we're one but we're not the same...".
One of the major struggles with the hospital there is that they are understaffed and don't have near enough room. That is why all the patients must have caretakers with them...they just don't have the staff to take care of all of them. There were also so many patients that they didn't have enough beds and there were many who had to bring something from home to lay on the floor in between beds. Every building was terribly over-crowded and since there is not near enough room for the caretakers and visitors inside the buildings, you had people just lining the outside perimeters of all of the buildings.
What was really hard was also hearing about how many people would come to the hospital, get treated, but then because they don't have clean water or sanitary conditions in their homes, they will go home and either get worse, or might even die.
It has probably been on of the most eye-opening, heart-wrenching days of the trip thus far.
After the visit to the hospital, we went back to the hotel, laid low for a bit, and then had dinner with a guy named Godfrey, who is a friend of Lonnie's and Bob's. I feel like everyone I meet now becomes "one of my favorites", but Godfrey truly is one of the most genuinely kind, on-fire-for-God people we have met. He was a breath of fresh air after a difficult day.