Monday, July 25, 2016


Kids + cakes + piping bags filled with homemade icing that is straight butter and sugar= tons of fun at Ddembe House!! 

One of the things Moses is intent on is teaching the kids skills that they can use later in life. They are learning to cook and clean and sing, and he loves to have visitors teach them things. 

Katie Karakourtis was here in the spring, and she taught the kids to crochet!  She did such a good job that now they can't stop!  They were so excited to show me what they had made since Katie left, and it's pretty impressive!  Check out these Bible carriers:

Moses told me last year that he wanted the kids to learn to decorate cakes so that they could do it for others one day. I brought all the supplies this year (thanks to MPK and some generous donations!)  

The kids had a blast!  They were so proud of every star they piped and excited to touch everything! 

 Mostly, though, they couldn't believe what it was like to pipe a star, then lick it off the practice sheet when you think no one is looking!  Some just went face first into it...

When it was time to decorate the cakes we had baked, they began with lovely, simple plans. Once we started, though, the "less is more" idea completely left the building!!  Every one of them kept making something new to add, and they all loved each addition!! They would declare their cakes "finished," then notice a piping bag with icing still in it, and go back to work!    Emma, who stared at everyone like they were crazy last Sunday at the Fair, spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen with me. He helped me bake the cakes, make the icing, and set up for decorating. He also took lots of time and pride in the cake he helped decorate!

Final products -- Proud kids who learned about making icing, filling and using piping bags and tips, using fondant, coloring icing and fondant, and trying to transfer that to an actual cake!  Oh, and of course, the cakes themselves... 

Probably not going pro anytime soon, but it was a great start!  

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Families do things together. They eat together. They laugh at and with each other. They have traditions and shared experiences that make for great stories. They support each other and love each other. 

Our kids are separated from their biological families (with the exception of the two sets of siblings we have here). We don't want Ddembe to become an institution where they are raised, but rather a family to which they belong.  Moses and I have been talking a lot this week about the differences between an orphanage and a foster home model in Uganda. Foster home does not really mean the same thing it does in the U.S.  Foster homes here are homes with one mother or a couple who raise 5-8 orphans like a family. That's more of the feel we are going for at Ddembe, even though we are a "children's home". 

Last night the younger children were  SO DONE studying. We tried to read books and play, but there was some pent up energy!  Everything became funny, and the entire place was full of giggles while they continued to pretend to work. Mommy Esther came into the room, and, since she's getting married in October, there will be an introduction ceremony in August. The kids are so excited for her, and Rogers began to imitate how she would walk in high heels (lots of falling!). Most of the girls began to try walking on their tiptoes, and some tied quits around themselves like fancy dresses. They said, "Mommy!  You will dance like this!" And danced in silly ways. Esther joined in, showing them a very exaggerated way in which she would dance!  At this point, most of the room was up dancing, Yonna was keeping a rhythm by beating the table, and the poor P7 kids gave up trying to study and joined in the fun for a bit!  Then the girls pushed end tables together in the sitting room and put a quilt over it like a table cloth. They pulled up two chairs, and announced that it was "The Hotel of Uganda," and that they had dining!  I said I wanted to visit and had to ask Yonna, who was stationed at the door, what they were serving.   They told me "mzungu food like macaroni and cheeses!" ;-) I came in to sit down, and Resty put my sunglasses on me so I looked like a "diner," while Magdalene and Vicky fell all over each other setting my place (and giggling!). Patricia took my order, and I everyone laughed when I pretended to enjoy my meal!  When we finally closed the fancy hotel, the kids headed to the kitchen to eat whatever leftovers were out or in the fridge. This is how a family works, I thought. 

Over the past several days, we have visited the families of each of our Ddembe children. We consider them our extended family, and are reaching out in love to them. Most of them cannot believe that we take care of their child(ren) and also bring them gifts and check on and pray with them. This is also how a family works. It is our prayer that as Ddembe moves forward, we would continue to be able to do more and more for these precious families, and even for their extended families and communities!

Saturday, July 23, 2016


 There are few things in life better than a good book. Perhaps one better thing is sharing a good book with someone else. I love to gift people with books I think they would enjoy. When I am an old lady, I am going to put a rocking chair in the children's section of the library and sit in it every day reading books to children and talking to them about what they are reading. 

Our children at Ddembe have been blessed over the years to receive books from us. We have typically taken extras that people had, and frequently the thin ones that we get for free because they don't take up a lot of weight in our luggage.  The children were so interested in the few nonfiction books (Chick-fil-A gave away great ones) we had that I decided to focus a lot of our luggage space on books this year, and be purposeful about asking for the ones I knew they would love. Mission Possible Kids at Oak Hill UMC, and Molly's third grade teacher, Mrs. Waldron, gave me TONS of books that were the perfect interest and reading level for our kids!  Lindsay Rerecich suggested the Anna Hibiscus series and the No 1 Car Spotter books, and that got me excited about finding more stories that our kids could relate to! We ended up coming with three specific books per child-- one non-fiction science book, one story about a child in Africa, and one other African book. I put labels in the front of each book telling the children why I had chosen that particular book for them. We also brought a ton more books for them to share and read. We have been bringing out some books every night and the kids are loving it!  They say things like, "HOW DID THEY KNOW US?!"  They are making predictions about what will happen, laughing at the funny parts, and looking at all the details in the illustrations. They can barely sit through the "Who Would Win?" book series (like lion vs tiger), because they just really want to know who would win!  In fact, now, when they see photos of two animals in other books, they always ask, "ah!  Who would win??!"  Little Moses clapped each time Kojo's farm grew during the story One Hen.  Yonna is reading every single sight word book, and considering that he didn't know his letters last year, we are celebrating every page!  
At school, the children have no textbooks, so they copy every diagram from the board. Seeing those same diagrams of insects and flowers in color and with real pictures is a complete novelty to them. Emma asked me, "how do they get all these photos for the book?" They keep exclaiming when they see pictures of outer space, and Moses (the child) asked me, "doesn't it disturb God when we rocket to the heavens?"  What a fantastic time to talk about how big God's creation really is!  

Books are magical!  Thank you to everyone who helped share that magic with our kids!!! We are leaving them over 100 books!  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The children have been practicing a new song:  Carry Your Candle. They love it so much, and if my phone could support a video on the blog, I would send you a video of them singing it that would melt your heart!  Someone is always singing or humming it around here. The chorus goes like this:

Carry your candle. Run to the darkness. 
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn. 
Hold your candle for all to see it. 
Take your candle, go light your world. 

There is a verse that says, 

Frustrated brother, see how he tries to
Light his own candle some other way.
And see your sister, she's been lost and lied to,
She holds a candle without a flame. 

Last year, we met Vicky's mom (Mamma Vicky) while we were here. Mamma Police (one of my favorite women in all of Uganda) had contacted Moses about this situation to see what we could do to help Vicky, so we went to check it out. Vicky's mother became paralyzed during Vicky's birth, so her husband left her. Both of Mamma Vivky's parents had passed away, so it was left to her siblings to care for her and Vicky. This was a huge burden to them, so they sold her portion of the inheritance and spent it on medical care trying to make her better. When the money ran out, they could no longer afford to help, and Mamma Vicky still couldn't support herself or her daughter. The siblings allowed her to still live on their land, but in a very worn mud structure. Her candle was clearly without a flame. Vicky did all of the work to try to keep them alive. When we met her, she was 12. Mamma Police was concerned that she was not safe (the door to her hut was a sheet), and that the mother was not safe either. After we met them, I sat with Robert and Moses, so frustrated and upset. Taking Vicky into Ddembe was a no brainier, but I wanted to move Mamma Vicky in with us and care for her too. Moses helped me remember that once we began supporting her, it was for the rest of her life, because she would likely never walk again. We agreed to pray about how to best help her.  Vicky moved to Ddembe a few weeks later, and the police activity "shamed" the family into moving Mamma Vicky into their concrete house where she would at least be safer. 

Fast forward one year. Vicky is absolutely full of life here!  
She loves the Lord, loves to sing, loves to help cook, and is very into her Bible. She knows everyone's favorite Bible verse, and is constantly smiling or laughing or making someone else laugh.  Magdalene is her best friend.  She is working hard in school. She's in P5, and this morning she told me she was working hard not to slide to Division 2, because she wants to be in Division 1 so badly. 

Rodney and his teams have been out to visit Mamma Vicky several times and they have even taken a couple of the boys from Ddembe to do some work for her. I was excited to hear that she is doing much better, but was not expecting what I found yesterday!  

We arrived at her house, and she wasn't there. This surprised me, since she can't get around much.  A few minutes later, a woman came WALKING across the road. I looked past her for awhile before I realized it was her!!!!  She had been digging in the garden!  Her smile was huge, but only half as big as mine!  We hugged (standing up!!) and she moved to the porch of her concrete home. She is still stumbling and walking with her hands out to her sides, and cannot walk long, but she can stand and sit and walk (and dig!).  She told me that she's still living in the sitting room of the concrete house with a sister and the sister's children.  The family is still not treating her well, but she is safe. She is a fiercely determined woman, and her testimony is awesome. Her pastor has been telling her for years to pray for healing from her lameness, but she never believed it would make a difference. When God sent us to care for Vicky, she felt free from the burden of worrying about her daughter being raped or taken, and she was safer when her family moved her. This was enough to give her the faith to begin praying, and slowly, God is healing her. She is a living testimony to many who are watching all of this happen in her life. 

Ddembe's motto is "love, hope, freedom."  It is clear that the small glimpse of hope in Mamma Vicky's dark world was enough to change her faith and her life. Praise God!
Where can you carry your candle today?  

Things aren't always what they seem.

There is an episode of Doogie Howser (I know, I know) from my childhood that I will never forget. In it, Doogie believes he can see more patients in one day by limiting his time with them and working faster. There is a woman who is very sick with an unexplainable illness, and he gets stuck listening to her talk one day. At some point, she tells him about a trip she took to Mexico and how she loved the pottery so much that she brought a lot of it home to use in her kitchen.  Doogie realizes that the pottery is painted with lead paint, and she has lead poisoning.  He would have never put that together without listening to her. 

I am guilty of not always listening to the whole story and of jumping to conclusions, too, sometimes. For example, Yonna and Rogers, the two youngest children at Ddembe have been falling asleep at night during study time. 

They are so tired all the time. Last year we got up a little bit later and finished by 10, and this year they are up at 5 and often awake until after 11. I know that Robert and I throw a kink in their routine, and I also know that they are working hard to study for their midterms. I decided, though, that I needed to talk to Moses about getting the children some more rest. The day I planned to talk to him, we were having a conversation about schooling. He told me the things I shared with you yesterday about the teachers not wanting the students to perform poorly on the exams, so they wanted them there all day every day of the week. Moses told them "no."  He said that our children will have Sundays off to rest, and will not go to school past 6pm. He shared with me that he has really been having to insist that the school let them go at night, and not punish them for missing one day. He has promised them that the children will work hard at home, and that he will help them, which is why they study so much.  When he was done, I realized that he and I were on the same side of this issue. He is doing what he can here, and I was able to just thank him and encourage him to continue!  

This morning I spent about an hour and a half visiting with Esther, the house mother. She is getting married in October, and we had some great conversations about marriage and the children, etc. It was such a joy to just be able to talk. 

Today we visited four of the families of our children. While I will not share all the details of their stories, just know that it is a tough day and a great day at the same time. One thing I admired was the way Moses stayed with each family, asking all about their lives, listening to their struggles, and encouraging them. He reminded me that people need to know that you care before they will listen to your advice. He is so good at this, and I am so grateful that we were able to watch him today. Many of his conversations were in Luganda, so Robert and I just smiled, but when we would get in the car, he would share with us many details that made some other things make more sense. My prayer is that God would give us patience to hear the whole story every time. 

Speaking of working to understand-- Robert and I saw this sign. Would LOVE to understand what special #2 is!!! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Imagine that you are a seventh grade student. Whether or not you continue on in school depends on your ability to perform on a one time series of four tests  (one per core subject, and the social studies test includes questions about the history and culture of your religion).  Now imagine that these tests cover all the material you were to have memorized in all of your schooling to this point (every science question, history detail, etc).By the way, the test is short answer. No multiple choice. 

We have three children at Ddembe who are in P7 (7th grade) now, and they will sit for their national exams at the end of November. Schools in Africa are divided into primary (1st-7th), and secondary (our high school).  Secondary school is four years, then you sit for more national exams. At that point, you choose vocational training or two more years of secondary school in hopes of moving on to the university.  The national exams are of utmost importance, because that's what allows you to continue schooling. School quality in Uganda is so varied that grades cannot be trusted as a measure of what a student has learned in primary, so your scores on four exams is all that matters for getting into secondary school. No pressure. The scores are given a ranking (based on your performance, not scaled based on the performance of others) and then totaled to give you the "division" you are in. The great news is that secondary schools are interested in attracting top students, and many offer scholarships for students who pass every exam.  And just in case you think it might not be that tough to pass a seventh grade exam, here is an except from the practice test I was looking over with Moses (the child) tonight.

In our previous scenario, imagine, too, that schools (which are chosen and fee based) are judged on the performance of their P7 students on exams. This might lead the teachers to decide the children need more studying, so all P7 students go to school on Saturdays as well. Knowing that most students do not have educated support at home might lead the schools to decide that the best use of a student's time was in school learning. Many schools are now asking their students to come on Sundays too. Some are even extending their hours so that the P7 students arrive at 6 and leave at 9:30pm. 




and Mary 

 will sit for their national exams at the end of November. They are already hard at work studying the way you might if you only got one shot at the SAT and there were no multiple choice questions. In truth, though, it feels more like we are preparing to be contestants on the show 500 Questions!  

Please keep them in your prayers as they gear up for these tests!!  

All of the children have midterms tomorrow (God always sends us when they need extra help studying, and while it makes the nights less relaxed, it also makes me glad to know that we are here to help!) 

Today Robert, Moses, and I toured three possible secondary schools for the children. It was like an episode of House Hunters.  We visited them all, then sat at our favorite Jinja cafe to discuss the pros and cons of each and choose our favorites! Two of the schools were secondary schools that Moses attended. It was like touring A&M with me. "This building used to be... This teacher has been here forever... We didn't have that when I was here...They are still driving the same bus!"  At one school, a former teacher of Moses' is now the headmaster and he gave us a personal tour. Robert knew right away which one was his favorite (he is getting good at school selection these days!). I was very impressed with two of the schools. The schools we looked at were what Moses called "middle level schools."  There are more expensive schools for sure, but Moses likes a "mix." He was speaking my language!  I also explained that even if we could afford it, it would be tough for our children to go to school with kids whose lives had been very different from theirs. We only looked at co-ed schools, in hopes that our children can attend school together. One school had high standards for admission. The other two basically said, "we know not everyone has the same opportunities, so we are willing to work with someone who is promising." (My favorite part of this is that they mean "promising to work hard," not "showing promise!"). It was exciting to see signs advertising the different clubs at the schools. 

And, of course, the signs that encourage clean living. Think we should start posting these at our high schools?

The science lab, where they experiment with live mice...

The library...

As you can tell, these schools are equipped!  The teachers and students were friendly and welcoming, and I think we have some great choices for our kids!

Thanks for praying for us through this, and especially for praying for our kids!!

Robert baked them brownies while they were studying tonight! (It's one of his top "study strategies!")