Friday, December 25, 2015

God with us




This past summer, I traveled to Africa like I had done many times before.  I was seeing the same children, and doing mostly the same things I had done before.  I was handling administrative tasks, spending time with the children, and investing in the relationships we have there.  This time, though, was different.  This time, I stayed at Ddembe House with the children.  Robert and I literally dwelt with them.  Two weeks before we arrived, the house mother/cook had taken medical leave, and so the kids and Moses were in need of someone to come and help care for them.  I was so excited to be that person!  I wanted to be a part of every aspect of their lives.  I wanted to not have to say good bye at dark each day, but be there to tuck them in and tell stories.  I wanted to eat with them, walk them to school, and be there when they got home.  And I was.  And it was awesome… most of the time.  Living among my friends in Uganda meant I had to live like a Ugandan, not like an American.  It meant that when we wanted drinking water, it had to be boiled.  It meant that when clothes needed washing, we had to scrub them in a bucket with our hands.  It meant that when we wanted to eat, we had to cook it, and then eat all of it, because there was no food storage. It meant that the mosquito net over the bed was our new best friend in a way we had not needed it before. While I knew all of this going in, quite honestly, it was the living AMONGST it for days on end that got long.  After several days of working very hard to get any water to come out of the faucet, I might have sat in the bathroom and cried because I just wanted clean hair.  After several days of hand washing clothes and uniforms, I might have wanted to make up a reason to keep all of the children home from school just so that I didn’t have to get their uniforms ready.  After several days of cooking over a single burner, I might have wished for a way to “pick up dinner” from somewhere.  You see,it is one thing to start and end living the same way.  It is a completely different thing to KNOW another way of life, and live somewhere that is counter to what you know and expect.  Jesus did this.  This is the whole point of Christmas.  Emmanuel – God WITH us.  Jesus, The Word, who John tells us was “with God,” and “was God,” “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus, who KNEW what Heaven was like, and KNEW what living with God was like, came down to Earth and lived here.  He had to drink our water, eat our food, and sleep in our beds.  Presumably, bugs bit him, some foods upset his stomach, and he was subjected to the same problems we have.  This was not an ordinary man experiencing these things.  This was God, who knew the difference.  


When Robert and I were in Uganda, the first night we arrived, Moses said to me, “What will you be cooking tonight?”  After my initial shock, and a meal that definitely could have turned out better, we ate.  My friend Christy said she would have just stopped at the gas station and gotten samosas for everyone!  One day when I did NOT want to do any laundry, I said to Moses, “I have clean underwear and new clothes for everyone in my luggage!  We can skip the laundry for today!”  One morning, I opened my eyes at 4:45 and realized that when I went to bed at midnight, I had forgotten to boil water and let it cool so the children could have drinking water for school.  I quickly ran to my purse, counted out some coins, and let the children buy water from the cantina for the first time in their lives!  On the morning of the water incident, Robert said, “Wow, Mom.  Way to be an American and solve the problem with money.”  I quickly replied, “I’m just grateful I was able to!!!!”  The truth is that it WAS easier to solve my problems (and those I had created for others) by fixing them in my American way and with my American resources.  Can you even IMAGINE how many times Jesus wanted to do the same?!!!  We all know about the water into wine incident.  Mary knew Jesus’ power, and wanted him to use it to make things better/easier.  


Every meal Jesus ate, he knew there was better food in Heaven.  Every time Jesus got tired, he knew that perfect bodies exist in Heaven.  Every time Jesus had to walk miles and miles, or deal with grouchy and rude people, he knew of a place where it wasn’t like that.  While this probably gave him hope, it also probably made it harder to deal with it here on Earth.  


Robert and I stayed in Africa two weeks – living at a really nice house that is Ddembe.  We have missionary friends who have chosen to live that life forever, and who have dwelt in far less favorable conditions.  God himself, in the form of Jesus, CHOSE to come down from Heaven and dwell among us—among all of this. 


Each year for Christmas, Keith and I give the kids an “experience.”  We don’t give things, because we want to make memories and spend that time together with the children, investing in something that will last.  We enjoy these experiences so much, and are excited every year to plan the perfect one with which to gift each of them.  We have had several times when we know the gift will rock their worlds! I can only begin to imagine how excited God was on that very first Christmas.  He was giving his earthly children the experience of living WITH God Himself, who had up to that point been unreachable and untouchable.  Wow.  Just wow.  The gift came with a sacrifice on His part, as most great gifts do.  The sacrifice wasn’t saved for Easter.  He endured thirty something years of human-ness, knowing full well that there was something different – something Heavenly.  


Emmanuel.  God choosing to be with us and among us. The perfect Christmas gift.  



The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel" (which means "God with us").  Matthew 1:23


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Timing is everything

I have come to really enjoy the slow pace of Ugandan life. This evening, when we were meeting Josephine in Kampala, Moses said, "you should call her," because it had been 20 minutes since we agreed to meet. I replied, "I am not worried. She will come."

Pastor Emmanuel and his friend John were talking to us about "Africa time."  They explained that in the U.S., everything is time focused. In Africa,  everything is people focused. They will not start a meeting until everyone is there, and since the taxi system is basically some vans that won't leave until they are full (and in Africa, there's always room for one more!), you cannot expect people to be anywhere at a certain time, so you are patient with it. Sam Otoa was telling us about the beginnings of Fields of Growth in Uganda, and how the Americans would get frustrated by how long it took to be driven somewhere. He said, "surely they did not expect us to not stop to greet our friends as we saw them moving."  Surely. 

When Moses was not there to pick us up 20 minutes after one lacrosse practice, I called and he said he was coming, " just now."  Sam said, "that means he hasn't left yet.  If he had said 'now,' he would be on the way, and 'now, now' means he is pulling into the field."  (This is like "early!")

While "not minding," as our Ugandan friends say, about the time will not help us in the U.S., (Robert said, "can you imagine if I rolled in 25 min late to lacrosse practice wearing jeans and flip flops?!") being more people-focused might. Since we still have a month of summer left (yay!!), and I don't have to have people out the door at a certain time, I am going to make a commitment now to be more focused on the people at my house!  Everything else, just like meetings in Uganda, can wait. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jinja lax

What awesome opportunities we have had this trip for Robert to continue working with the Uganda lacrosse league!  Sam Otoa, the one for whom we brought the defensive poles, is putting together a team here in Jinja, and is working so hard!  He's arranged for his team (the Zulus) to play their first game next weekend (so wish we could be there!!!) in Kampala against a YMCA team that is there (the way he makes it sound, it's a lot of expat families). The Zulus are so nervous. They are piecing together equipment for everyone and trying to learn a game which they have never seen played!  Sam was so excited to have Robert here to help them, that he called practices for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings!  Each night, just like in the U.S., I would prepare dinner here and then take Robert to practice, and we would come home to eat. 

The first night, it was just the defense, coming to learn how to use their new poles. 
Sam never stops telling everyone about how great lacrosse is...Even children who passed by walking home from school!  

Last year we brought some pinnies and shorts from DS Lax to share with the street kids Robert was teaching lacrosse to. This year we shared the rest with the Jinja guys. You may recognize some shorts and pinnies in these pics!  

We were playing at the biggest field in Jinja, and we got chased off the field each night by the soccer guys. Take a look at this field...
Yes, that is a cow in the goal. 
Moses actually drove ONTO the field to drop us off. Another cow.  
And this one literally watched the practice with me!  (Bonus... No one needs to mow the field!)
I'm thinking they should change their team name and make the cow their mascot!  

Robert showed the tallest guys on the team how to lengthen their stride in order to be faster...
He taught them some drills, worked on stick skills and footwork, and demonstrated a few plays. 
Best part... After three days of practice, Sam told Robert that the guy in red, who is the fastest guy on the team, does not speak a WORD of English!  Sam said, "truly, he did not understand anything you have said."  ;-). 

Robert had so much fun with these guys, and it was great to see more of the desire that guys like Sam have to continue growing the game, and the commitment they have made of their time and energy (and money) to make it happen. We are looking forward to seeing this team again next year, and hoping there are some future Team Uganda guys here!  Go Zulus! 


It's time to go home, and I have just gotten in the groove here!  As of Sunday, things were starting to feel normal to me. I think it's because I had made it through a full week and know the schedule like it's mine, and the kids and I know how it all works now. 

With the help of several cans of what is probably DDT, we have gotten the mosquitoes under control. I have made peace with the fruit flies. I am even more comfortable with the dirty water and scrubbing dishes with a piece from an old sugar bag. I know (because we're all still alive!) that I can cook without killing anyone here. My hair is in a permanent ponytail, and the red dirt makes me look tan. I have gone many days without wifi and haven't missed much. This morning, I went outside and started a load of laundry... In buckets. Nothing is freaking me out anymore. It all feels very normal.

I'm actually sad that it took me a week to get over myself and my desires for the comforts of my "normal" life, because now I feel like I could stay comfortably for much longer. It may have helped that Sunday, just as church was ending, Pastor Henry called everyone to the altar to pray for God to free us from all the "other gods" we were depending on to make our lives more comfortable. This was (I am not exaggerating) a forty-five minute prayer session, so I had plenty of time to go through all the things and ask God to strip me of my desires for them!   

There is always an adjustment period for us when we get back to the States. Everything seems so excessive, so fast, and so wasteful. Then, eventually, after living amongst it for awhile again, it feels normal. 

It occurs to me that we should more carefully guard our surroundings, because whatever we live in the midst of becomes "normal."  It's the reason teenagers say, "EVERYONE else has/is/can..."  It's the reason we start to feel either contended because compared to others we have more, or discontented because compared to others we have less. It's the reason we should carefully choose our closest friends because their behaviors and beliefs become "normal" to us, and begin to influence our behaviors and beliefs. 

Having part of our lives in Africa and part in the U.S. always makes Robert and me feel a bit abnormal. I just know that loving these faces feels like the most normal thing on Earth!  


Tuesday, July 28, 2015


We've eaten well this trip. It hasn't been Robert's favorite, because he used to exist solely on the egg rolls and fanta at Hotel Paradise on the Nile. He's been very supportive of my cooking, though, and last night we went out with a bang... Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and fried okra!  Mangadalene helped me with all the breading, and she was absolutely delighted when I pulled the golden, crispy  pieces out of the pot!  Robert had to demonstrate how to eat a drumstick, and  everyone was happy!  :-)

The kids have all been interested in watching and learning about the cooking (and some just want to hang out in the kitchen with me-- LOVE!) Last night, we had everyone in the kitchen at some point!  They were amazed.

At bedtime, Moses (the oldest boy at the orphanage, not Moses the house papa!) came to me with a pen and paper and said, "can you please write how to cook the sweet meat you put on our beans?"  BACON!!!  ;). 
Robert and I found bacon (at an "American supermarket" run by an Indian man, with many of the labels in Arabic.) As an interesting side note, the labels on the bacon were in Arabic!! 
The full package is not pictured here, but it was called "streaky bacon."  Not sure what that's all about, but it fried up just like bacon!  

We had eaten American food all week, and while that's what Moses asked for, I wanted to give them something that tasted more like "home" to them, so Sunday I made a huge pot of beans, and Mary helped me make posho. The bacon was my little touch, and we have at least one new convert!  

Old friends!

On my first trip to Africa 8 years ago, I met Joshua at Ms Agnes' orphanage. Joshua was 10, and clearly a leader. When he led the children in worship, it was nothing short of divine, and he was the one who worked the paper cutter while they made beads. We made a commitment at that time as a family (and even extended family) to help see that Joshua became all that God  intended him to be. 

A few years ago, Joshua left Agnes' to live with his grandmother so he could help her. We have seen him almost every year that we have come, and it has been fun to watch him and Robert grow together. 

In February, when I was literally crying out to God about how to continue caring for all of "our children" here, I got an email from Joshua!  We talked via email, and Moses has checked on him once for me. 

On Friday, we went to Joshua's grandmother's house. What a sweet, sweet woman!!!!  She was so gracious and kind and welcoming, and so happy to meet Joshua's "mama mzungu!"  Even though I didn't understand a word of what she said, she talked to me the whole time anyway, and I got the jist of it, with some help from Moses. The grandmother sells bananas for income, and is intent on making sure that all the children go to school.  (Joshua is the fourth of five). 
Joshua finished senior level 4 in February and has not been in school this term.  His choices are to continue through senior 6, which then means university, or begin training now. We asked him what he dreamed of becoming, and he wants to be a nurse. The best nursing school in Uganda is close to where we used to stay every year, so we were familiar with it.  We loaded up Joshua and his report card and took him to Jinja (after receiving an armload of bananas from his Jaaja!).  He went to the school and got all the details about applying, and it turns out that the timing is perfect!  He can apply in August, interview in Sept, and start in November. We gave him money for his application fee, and we will keep in touch with him to see how it's going and to help him along the way!  (I made him pose for a sign by the school. Robert said to him, "this is just what she does.") ;-)

Staying in touch with Joshua is an indescribable gift to me!  He had some "brothers and sisters" here too who were SO happy to enjoy bananas from him as a snack!  Many of them remember him as a big brother!  

We have also been in touch with Christine, from Ms Agnes', and Moses is checking on her. We are going to try to help her into a training program as well. 

For those of you who have been praying for us to find Anna, thank you. We know that she is safe. We would still love to be able to have her live here, but in the meantime, we are so grateful to know that she is ok!  

As another total bonus, I was walking the children to school last Monday and we caught up with Ruth, from Agnes'!  She is living with her sisters, Grace and Rachel (also from Agnes') at an aunt's house. Ruth is in school at the same school our kids attend, so she's in class with her "sisters!"  It was so good to see her, and to see them hanging out waiting for each other on the way to school!  Ruth even came over during church to say "hi!"  Praise God!  

I cannot say enough times how gracious God has been through this. He knows where all of his sheep are, and that is enough. The fact that He allows us to know too is enough to make a girl cry... A lot!  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Things Ugandans can not believe

Moses and I have a lot of conversations. Many times I say something, and he says, "I can not BELIEVE this you are telling me!"  Lately, it has been about machines. He was asking me, while I was doing the laundry the other day, how a washing machine works. After I explained, he said, "I have heard that some people have machines to wash dishes too!"  I explained how those worked. Then I found him rinsing dust off of the land cruiser that he's been driving us around in, and I said, "would you believe me if I told you we have machines for that?!"  We have talked about garage door openers, automatic gate openers, air conditioners. He's right... It IS mind blowing! He said to me, "what are you Whites thinking?!  That you can be like God?!"  ;-)

At lunch Friday, he was telling me that he knows some places in the U.S. get cold, so I was telling him about living in Alaska. He was sufficiently amazed. He said, "you mean you are telling me there are places where people never see the sun for so long?!  And then at times it does not get dark!  How can this be???"  I explained that it is exactly the opposite of here at the equator.   That night, the kids were studying for their science exam, and Emma asked me, "what are seasons?"  :-0. Good thing I had brought an inflatable globe!  They learn in a classroom by copying teachers' notes off the board into composition books. No demonstrations, experiments, etc. They had all the right notes, but not a single kiddo in P5 understood their science!  So... We worked on it!  
While we were at it, they had questions about heat, light, motion, force, and pretty much all of the rest of fifth grade science!  Whew!  

From our end, I have learned even more things that get "lost in the translation."  For example, when I asked Moses what time we had to be awake Saturday, since it wasn't a school day...

Moses:  early
Me:  are you kidding?  It's not a school day!
Moses:  right.  So we sleep more. Then we get up early. 
Me:  can't we sleep later?
Moses:  we will. 
Me: ???  What time should we actually wake up? 
Moses:  I'm thinking like about ten to seven. 
Me:  that's great!  But that's later, not earlier!
Moses:  yes. In Uganda, when we say "early," we mean early in the day. I am thinking it is different from what you are thinking. 
Me:  ummmm... Yes. 
(Robert:  that explains something about "Africa time."),

Also... Ugandans do not blend consonants. They put a vowel sound in between, so my favorite is during the Lord's Prayer each night, when they say, "Forgive us our debate, as we forgive our debators." (Amen.) 

There are challenges to cross cultural ministry that we sometimes don't even know exist. There was that time when I heard we had volunteers at Agnes' orphanage, and I encouraged it.  Then she asked how to pay them!  I explained that volunteers in the U.S. don't get paid. She explained that in Uganda, they are volunteering to work!  Aha!  

Our worlds are so different. Even though English is the official language of Uganda, the words don't always mean the same thing, and here even the tone of your voice matters a great deal. Culturally, we are similar in many ways, and opposite in many.  When you add to this thousands of miles' separation, time zones that make it tricky to find good times to talk, and Internet connectivity issues, it's a wonder anyone can build relationships and do ministry!  We are working on asking all the questions, so that we do not inadvertently implement something that makes imminent sense to us, but not in this culture.  Often times, it makes us say, "I can not BELIEVE this you are telling me!"  


Today it was finally time to give the children some of their gifts!  Moses was afraid they would be too excited and distracted by the new things during the week. Final exams for this term are Monday and Tuesday, and we have been studying like crazy around here!  

As a side note, I love Saturdays!  We slept an extra hour, which made all the difference for me, and the children enjoyed breakfast and then we all spent a few hours doing chores. I tackled the project I've been dying to do since Sunday night... Cleaning the kitchen!!  We have a very nice kitchen here, and I have been praying for chlorox wipes!  In the meantime, I have been using wet wipes to clean the counters (desperate times...). This morning, when I went to my bag to get another package of wet wipes, there was ONE package of them that were chlorox wipes!  I am not even kidding!!!  We USED those 10 wipes, and... (Keith and Jill, this one's for you...)
It even smelled a little bit like home!

Rodney and Christy and their friends had put together bags for each child with a note, church clothes, and play clothes. The children were SO excited, and they changed immediately, of course!  
Giselle Pritchard, one of the 9 year old girls in my neighborhood, used her birthday party this year as an opportunity to gather shoes, and we had EXACTLY the right sizes!!!!  Praise God!  Every child got new shoes that fit! 
When they were finished getting dressed, they all got down on their knees and thanked God for the gifts and for the people who had sent them!!  

Nadia Pakes and the girls from Veritas' Shine group made puzzles for the kids (with a piece of candy inside each bag!). We had a great time putting the puzzles together, but I think their favorite part was the notes the Shine group had made!  I have NO idea how they did it, but they wrote messages like "Jesus is good" and "praise God" IN LUGANDA!!  The kids were amazed!  

My daughter, Molly, and her bestie, Olivia, sold cotton candy to buy toys for the kids, and the precious girls and families who attended Princess Prep School this summer gave vitamins (which they have taken each morning with breakfast, and have enough to last a year!!) and money. We used the money to purchase some more toys for the home, and the kids were so happy!!  We brought Connect 4 and Chutes and Ladders, and I have played no fewer than 95 games in the past few hours!  Robert chose Legos, and the kids built Legos all afternoon and evening!!  We also brought some colored pencils and markers, and it looked like my kitchen table in here!!  Sooooo much artwork!!!  

At bedtime, we weren't done!  My mom's Bible study friends made "lovies" for each child!  They were so excited and kept touching them to their faces to feel the softness!  

What a fantastic day!  Thank you to everyone who worked to help with these gifts!  We are so blessed to have a community of people who love and support the kids of Ddembe House!!