What I learned from the Summer of 2013 – please accept my overdue assignment
- While some pray for school vacation and summer to come sooner – in Uganda there are children praying for tuition to be paid and a uniform to enter the classroom doors.
- I’m still not sure what world events occurred in July 2013 beyond the birth of a new prince, and my life doesn’t seem any less full.
- Lions when they put their minds to it can climb trees in the Murchison Falls National Park.
- Ugandan girls are competitive, fierce, and love opportunities to play football.
- Despite my bizarre dream of swimming with hippos they are not remotely like dolphins and a swim in The Nile is not advised, their teeth rival sharks.
- The Churchill War Rooms are a must when visiting London.
- Headphones at night help drown out the sound of rats.
- Mosquito nets are wonderful for keeping out rats, lizards, toads, and mosquitoes.
- Even a 5 year old can learn to wash their clothes by hand.
- The hand-washing soap OMO is better than anything we have in the USA to get clothing looking bright and clean again.
- Though cathedrals are beautiful I’m thankful no one is buried in my church.
- White Ants are tastier than eating intestine (though I’m not sure if I ate goat or cow intestine and prefer to skip both).
- I would catch White Ants to eat again but leaving the cooking to the 7 year olds as they did a great job.
- Americans do not literally use their heads enough to carry water and other items (I think we should all start next time we go to Target or even the Mall – ditch the carts)
- The children who are “blessed” (some say spoiled) in Children’s Villages in Africa don’t need to be concerned where their next meal will come from, what they will wear or who will pay their tuition fees. It brings perspective.
- It’s humbling to see men in prison be thankful for a simple bar of soap.
- It takes 80 pumps at the well to fill a bucket big enough for a “shower”, a few more if you need to shave your legs that day.
- Dancing in Church, including a “conga line” is Worshipful.
- Thunder and Lighting Storms while sleeping under a Tin Roof is like God’s Drum Circle.
- My friend Jimmey can drive like he belongs in a Hollywood movie. With no re-takes needed we arrived safely for an airport drop-off.
- Despite how much I stay in the sun I’m still a “muno” (white person) and intriguing to the neighborhood children in Lira (please tell this to the student who could barely stay awake in my class last week).
- Profound Joy is found in Uganda as people trust in God and hold firm to: With God All things are Possible (Matthew 19:27)
Finally – I have fabulous and supportive family and friends who I am humbled by as they prayed, encouraged, listened, challenged and gave generously to God’s work in Uganda and my small part in in during July.
The “Kingdom of God” is an image whichhas been percolating in my heart and my time in Uganda encouraged me to revisit it and gather a few thoughts.
One of my great joys in Uganda was to visit 3 other “Children’s Villages” (orphanages with schools) in Uganda. Two villages are in Lira and the third, Watoto, in Kampala. During each visit national staff from Children of the Nations alongside American staff and volunteers asked questions of the other organizations about their vision, history, growth, current projects, challenges, etc. Each village is unique yet the goal of each is to raise orphaned and disadvantaged children in loving, caring homes growing to love Christ and lead the nation of Uganda. Aspects of each village sparked our interest. A fully functioning computer lab, a highly successful secondary school, a school working to have international accreditation (not being tied down to national exams), electricity, running water, a culinary program, a baby’s home complete with washers and dryers, and so many other ideas. Then we all thought of the 60 or so full care children at Children of the Nations in Uganda, the many Village Partnership children and what the future may hold for all of them. We dreamed privately and out loud as we all can be part of building it. At COTN Uganda a new circle of homes is underway with 2 of 8 homes finishing completion. There are children who complete Primary 7 and then go to secondary boarding schools but maybe an on-site secondary school would be better for students. The potential projects and plans are endless both at COTN and every other children’s village. Dreaming and planning on how to best love, serve and raise kids who love Jesus is daunting, exciting, and part of something much larger, God’s Kingdom work.
As we began our tour of Watoto, thanking them for their time, a longtime administrator was so very gracious which helped bring perspective. She said, “We’re all building the same Kingdom, right?” She went on to state that they are glad to share what they have learned over nearly 20 years of caring for children through developing children’s villages. She stated they have learned through successes, but also failures, and are glad to share what wisdom they have gained. The Same Kingdom. Her graciousness, willingness to share, honesty, and purpose shined through. So we visited one of the Watoto Children’s Villages with over 1000 children, a baby’s home with 98 children under the age of 2, a thriving secondary school with students getting top national marks, and a shop building furniture and roofing for future homes. The atmosphere was that of a prep school located like a city on a hill, which it is. It could be easy to be pulled into thinking and feeling Watoto is “better” in doing the work of God, in building his Kingdom. However in Lira they (Watoto) aren’t better, they aren’t there. It’s not a criticism rather an acknowledgement that each person, church, and organization must take responsibility for the work given to them by God. My trip to Lira left me encouraged that the work in Lira through Children’s of the Nations is important, critical, and Kingdom building work which He brought me to be part of.
My return home via 4 days in the UK still had me thinking of Kingdom work. I woke at 5am on Sunday August 11th with thoughts of what my role has been this summer in Kingdom Work in Uganda. That phrase kept mulling about my brain as I thought of the reports yet to write, recommendations to make, pictures to edit, and so much to consider in terms of next steps as my work is not complete. Rich Stearns, the president of World Vision, was speaking in church that morning and he said, “Having accomplished what he came to earth to do, why didn’t Jesus finish all of history right then and there? Well, he gave the church a mission; it is now the church’s job to do the work of building the kingdom of God.”
As part of the Church I went to Uganda – the church made up of the support of family, friends and church members. Throughout my time in Uganda it was clear that I was the face of a much larger Kingdom team and for that I am humbled.
My theme song for the summer was “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline
“Every child has a dream to belong and be loved
Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these”
When I think of the Kingdom of God my heart turns to the children pictured below. There is room for a multitude of Queens and Kings in this Kingdom here is a glimpse of a few of them.
As I left the Children’s Village and then the Guest House to venture home via safari the question by the children and staff was, “Will you come back?” Well that’s the question I’ve been asking as well. My intention is to return to Uganda but I’m also not about making promises and more importantly I don’t know what God’s timing is and when he will lead me back. I don’t know what my work would consist of in Uganda (though there’s plenty of it) or for how long I would go. I do hope to come back sooner than later and to continue to use my skills. The unknowing causes me a bit of anxiety – Does it mean that I haven’t been listening to God’s leading/direction and am I missing it other places in my life? Yet I believe He led me to Uganda and I went. They are the questions which stir in so many of our hearts as Christ Followers: What is God asking of me? How is He leading? What is He saying to my heart? However this time with the question of “Uganda” on my mind the anxiety is minimal. Isn’t this what God always is asking of us? “Let me guide” “Don’t be anxious” “I’ll care for you.”
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me. The words repeat over and over in my head and quite honestly now I think of the Safari as I think of the animals rather than the sparrow. It’s true The Lord of Heaven and Earth not only cares for me but he gives me exactly what I need and more. He knows my love for children, serving, travel, adventure, and culture. Sometimes I find myself dreaming about what I believe would be an ideal job, perfect place to live, adventure to take, friends to have and then realize that God each and every time has outdone me. His dreams are better and are not dreams but reality. He has time and time again surprised me by the richness of his gifts of family, friendship, adventure, meaningful work, and moments that seem orchestrated like love notes. Here are two that he gave me.
On occasion friends have commented that I have a competitive nature. Well let’s be honest, friends, family, co-workers, and more have noticed it. I’m not sure how exactly it comes across – maybe it’s the intensity I put into competition with others but also with myself. I strive to do my best, to have personal wins and to improve at whatever goal I have. I hope to not be a sore loser.
As we take out the 2 Jenga games for the 10 girls we have had in our P4,P5, P6 group they get excited. They have played this game before. We divide into teams and set the games on the cement floor of a bedroom lined with bunkbeds. We begin to play and compete. We eat candy and laugh. The towers become higher as these 10 girls (and 2 leaders) are intent on winning this game. I assumed we would play a few times as the towers would fall and we would start over. That’s not at all what happened. The intensity in the room was high, sharp words in Luo to each other, glances at the other team’s tower, advice, correction, and sighs of relief with each block removed and stacked. There was also laughter and celebrating. The girl beside me was full of competitive anxiety as she held her hands around the tower willing it to stay up. There was also physical grace and presence. When these girls dance in a group there is no bumping and stumbling into each other, even as they learn a new dance. They appear to know where their bodies are in relation to others at all times. So it is with playing Jenga. They don’t mistakenly bump another player who may collide with the tower. They are aware of themselves in a way that I admire. The game took nearly an hour.
So, my team lost this competition. There were girls in my group that threw visual daggers at our teammates. Others seem less impacted. So what to do? Talk about competition. I shared about various views of competition and how each person is different. I could not help but smile as if looking into a mirror, minus the physical grace and presence of these Ugandan girls. Many of these girls have highly competitive spirits. So what do you do when your team loses? You find another challenge. I asked the girls if they play football. The boys don’t typically let them and say they’ll get hurt. The Saturday before I left we had a fierce all girls football game with a competitive and gracefulness I’ve only seen in Ugandan young women. I played for each team at different times, and for me it was an afternoon full of wins.
My Job Description as a social work consultant in Uganda has included working on Child Profiles (a document which includes background, behavior, emotional health, counseling history, school information, etc.) of 30 identified full-care kids. It also includes making social work recommendations moving forward for the COTN staff as they care for kids. I’ve visited 2 other Children’s Villages thus far with 1 more before I head to London. All of the other Children’s Villages are NGO’s run by Americans though with the majority of staff being Ugandans. COTN is different in that though the funding comes from overseas it is a national NGO, meaning the leadership is national. Americans come to support, advise and encourage but are not primarily directive about how the agreed upon goals and values are carried out.
As I’ve worked there have been challenges completing the Child Profiles and I’ve wondered how to make them as useful as possible to both Ugandan and American staff. English is not any of the staff’s first language, they view child development differently, they see behavior/discipline/obedience differently. The chores and tasks children are expected to do is different from American children. How can I be the most helpful knowing that Americans, and those from developed countries, do not always raise children the best way though sometimes we think we do?
As I’m thinking of recommendations to make I first wanted to share what I believe is done well in Uganda – and specifically in the Children’s Village:
Education is highly valued and not taken for granted
The children are bi-lingual (Luo and English)
Older Children care for Younger Children
Children learn to Dance and Sing and adults join in at the village and at church.
Children are respectful – especially of adults
Children are expected to take responsibility for the grounds (sweeping, mopping, weeding, etc)
Children learn to care for animals (goats and chickens especially)
Children understand the importance of farming and know that much food is grown on the property.
Children are taught to cook and do laundry at early ages – boys and girls.
The children are thankful for what they have and learn to care for it at early ages.
Children are raised with regular times of group prayer and Bible reading and as they grow older they choose to also to have these times on their own.
The children are involved in the local church.
The children are given opportunities to serve outside of the Children’s Village
Children visit their extended family / village when possible on breaks.
This is some of the Good Work done at the Children’s Village in Lira Uganda
Last days in Lira. My mind has to leap over the memory hurdle of a 9+ hour van ride (by Jimmey who drove through Kampala to Entebbe straight out of a Hollywood Script), Safari (complete with lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and more), and land back in Lira.
My experiences in Lira the past few days felt a bit surreal. There are no pictures of the 121 men who live at Erute Prison. Imagine bright yellow scrubs – shorts and shirts with vertical lines with flip flops completing the uniform. They are packed in a room sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder, we must sit indoors as it is raining outside and the compound is muddy. Teenagers from the Children’s Village, the visiting team from Oklahoma, the COTN interns, and a few others come to share. There was heartfelt upbeat singing by many of the men and we joined in by clapping. How I wish I knew the words. Singing and sharing by our team. An invitation to pray and accept Christ and a response by over 15 men. I sang when I knew the words but what else did I have to offer other than the gift of presence? These men are not forgotten, even in the rain and mud we have come. My only gift was to be willing to look at these men not as group rather be willing to look into their faces, their eyes and acknowledge them as individuals with stories which have brought them to Erute. Erute we have been told has a new warden/officer who truly cares for the men in the prison. She has brought better conditions (decent clothing and food). They still wait, as they have been charged but it can take over a year to see a judge yet she serves them where and how she can. I pray that they sense they are not forgotten and there continues to be outreach by the church.
There are no pictures of the harrowing drive in the rain and mud to Christopher and Joyce’s home. A yellow van sliding down the Children’s Village driveway and getting lost in the streets of Lira to slide precariously into a ditch yet recovered back to the road by a trusty driver. Walking to the home knowing my shoes will need an inch of mud scrubbed off. Christopher oversees the Village Partnership Program (VPP) caring for (through sponsorship funds) over 200 children. When I was a Dept. of Mental Health case manager for kids and my caseload inched over 23 it was a bit more challenging. Christopher is stretched thin as he does home visits and checks in about food, living conditions, family situations, etc. for the 200 VPP kids. He opened his home to us providing a meal and the entertainment of “Evan Almighty” and his 1 1/2 year old twins. We arrived to a lantern burning and headlamps providing additional light. This is Uganda, unreliable electricity even if your home has it. Eventually the electricity came on. Christopher also opens his home, and his wallet by funding education for 2 other children that are not part of the COTN program. I am struck by the generosity and hospitality of the Ugandans and recognize it is something I admire and can learn from. Nearly everyone is caring for someone who is not an immediate family member and helps fund education in some way. I pray it’s truly a lesson I take home with me and consider what it mean for me.
HOPE – the fuel of a changing nation. Saturday we took the oldest girls out to dinner at an American type Internet cafe. They had the opportunity to try foods they had never had (banana pancakes, cinnamon rolls, eggs and toast, and pizza) among some more known drinks and foods. (Pizza was not a winner with these teenagers!)
We asked them questions about themselves and the future. “I want to be a doctor.” “If I fail to be a doctor I want to open up a home for many children.” “I want to be a lawyer to stop corruption in Uganda.” “If I fail to be pilot I want to help those who are needy.” We talked about their careers and dreams and how they might be intertwined. There was hope in the room. These young women have have a safe and loving place to live, are being educated, and believe that God has a purpose for their lives.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I came to Northern Uganda. The civil war is not that far in the past, and many of the older children at COTN have vivid memories of violence yet there is hope in how their lives will unfold. The joy they have as they dance, play, cook, and even as they sing worship songs as they mop and clean is not contaminated with worry and stress for the future. They truly believe in, and hope for futures, that continue without war or hunger. They believe that God is with them and will continue to be with them
The rain here in Uganda brings with it many things, hard work, dirt, mud, getting clothes off the line, challenges with driving, and again dirt and mud. Yet rain also bring growing crops, food, outdoor washing and showers. I asked some kids at the Children’s Village to draw themselves in the rain. I love the following picture.
He drew it of his sister. Yes there are clouds but she is holding an umbrella. She is not deterred, saddened or immobilized by the rain. The colors he chose, blue and yellow are joyful and hopeful. I love the bright colors. His sister has a big smile on her face. It is a picture of how this young man, the future of Uganda has HOPE. My desire and prayer is as children’s physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs are met that hope continues to rain down.
I wake up each school day to the sound of washing at 5am. I’ve never quite sure what is being washed as I lay in bed. I assume it clothes being washed but it seems too early. As the day progresses more washing is heard and the roosters start. Pots bang, birds chirp, and sweeping and mopping are in full swing. It’s now 6am and some mornings I even feel cool here in Africa as I lay in bed surrounded by a blue mosquito net. The sweeping continues and I can hear the water being pumped from the well. The voices of children begin to get louder. A girl sings a worship song as she moves about her morning chores.
Sweeping inside and outside, the floors and the hard packed dirt around each home. Sweeping the road. Washing of floors by hand with towels immediately red with dirt. Floors drying nearly as soon as they have been washed. Red brown dirt at every turn. Always sweeping and the sound of the well, pumping, pumping, pumping. Always children heard at school and here in the village.
A cow mooing. Water being used again, washing, is it clothes, a floor? Always washing. More roosters, chickens and then the bleat of goats, baby goats. Goats galore leaping and playing and seeking their mothers out. I look up and there is a lost goat in my room. Are you here for me or can you catch the rats living in my room which I hear at night? Outside bunnies hopping across the path. Wait now it’s turkeys strolling through the middle of the Children’s Village.
Digging, banging – construction being done for more houses. Children – you can hear them in the school and then clammering for lunch. Laughing, playing games, sitting together under the tree. The smell of fires burning to make food all day long. It’s the end of the day – a school assembly under the tree. A sea of pink uniforms.
School is out and a stream of children in pink uniforms stream home and back to the Children’s Village. Bees buzzing, birds chirping, metal doors and cabinets clanging, blue with color and long in endurance. Boys doing their laundry together, girls as well. Laughter and raised tones from the older children for the younger to behave and act maturely. The clotheslines full of color at every moment. Then I smell charcoal for ironing clothes and newly washed sheets.
Children are sorting beans, finding the rocks, picking out shells. Herbs being dried and nuts being roasted. Children washing clothes, cooking posha and beans, eating with their hands. Football being played, bikes ridden, homework remembered and completed by solar lighting. Singing, a dance practice, washing, bathing, and laughing.
I look hard enough and I see a lizard on the wall in the girls room. Don’t step on the toad as you catch white ants to eat later. It’s a game and our arms hurt from helping children catch them, like money falling from the sky. They’re better than bubbles, grab them and enjoy them later.
Singing, dancing, laughing, playing cards, water pumping, washing, homework and the night begins to wind down.
Sunday night at the Children’s Village is quite low key. The kids sometimes watch a movie when they hook up the generator. So on Sunday when a movie was playing suddenly there were swarms of White Ants (also known as termites) around the outside lights. The solution I thought would be to shut the lights off and let the white ants fly away, however the kids solution is quite different. They were elated at the swarming. Out the younger children came with pans and they started to catch them. Soon the other consultants and myself joined in to help. So we swatted down and caught white ants by the hundreds. I would be glad when they landed on me as it was easier to add them to the pots. White Ants are, well, quite stupid. We put them in the pots without any lids and they didn’t fly away. I jumped on the counter in our house to get the ants closest to the overhead light. A young girl gave me a piece of clothing to swat them down and they anticipated each one that fell to the ground to add to the bounty. More and more were put in the pots until our arms were tired.
The kids put the pots away for the following day. After school on Monday they prepared their snack – they sorted the ants and began to cook them over the coals. The young girls had a pot and so did the young boys. They stirred and cooked until they were a bit crispy. Then we snacked on them. A unique snack that after eating I could still smile about.
Yes we have after school snacks here at the Children’s Village, just not warm cookies and milk.