Category Archives: Don’t Miss

Summer 2013 – Lessons Learned

What I learned from the Summer of 2013 – please accept my overdue assignment

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Lions when they put their minds to it can climb trees in the Murchison Falls National Park.
  4. Ugandan girls are competitive, fierce, and love opportunities to play football.
  5. 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.
  6. The Churchill War Rooms are a must when visiting London.
  7. Headphones at night help drown out the sound of rats.
  8. Mosquito nets are wonderful for keeping out rats, lizards, toads, and mosquitoes.
  9. Even a 5 year old can learn to wash their clothes by hand.
  10. The hand-washing soap OMO is better than anything we have in the USA to get clothing looking bright and clean again.
  11. Though cathedrals are beautiful I’m thankful no one is buried in my church.
  12. White Ants are tastier than eating intestine (though I’m not sure if I ate goat or cow intestine and prefer to skip both).
  13. I would catch White Ants to eat again but leaving the cooking to the 7 year olds as they did a great job.
  14. 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)
  15. 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.
  16. It’s humbling to see men in prison be thankful for a simple bar of soap.
  17. 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.
  18. Dancing in Church, including a “conga line” is Worshipful.
  19. Thunder and Lighting Storms while sleeping under a Tin Roof is like God’s Drum Circle.
  20. 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.
  21. 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).
  22. 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.

God “Outdreams” Me Every Time

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.

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Last days 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.

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The Hope of Rain

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.

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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.

Swarming and Snacking

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.

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God’s Great Dance Floor

Imagine a favorite song playing. Your finger starts tapping or maybe even your toes start tapping. In Uganda very quickly your whole body would start moving.

Dancing – a beautiful Ugandan tradition. There is freedom for the children to dance and they are encouraged. There are girl’s dances, boys dances, and traditional dances. They encourage us (anyone white or “muno”) to join in. After a night at the guest house I moved to the Children’s Village at COTN . I settled in and spoke with the national counselor, Rose, who is a strong industrious woman (she makes and sells beads, employing other women, for extra money). The children presented a welcome and sang songs to the newly arrived Americans (I arrived with the Flood Church medical team). Finally we joined them in dance and laughter which went on for 2 hours. Friday again there was dancing at a neighborhood celebration/”centre day” which essentially was an open house for the children’s parents who attend the school. The children had killed 7 chickens for the meal which served hundreds (there was also goat and the chickens were in an event in themselves for the children). There were sack races, I attempted to balance a pot on my head (attempted is the key word as I didn’t last more than a few seconds each time), class recitations, and “gymnastics.” Finally there was dance, and more dance, and more dance. Again today after a trip to Barlonyo (wikipedia it) where it is estimated 800 were brutally killed in broad daylight in a few hours (2004) we returned to Lira town. Barlonyo is a sad place and the spirit feels heavy as the community members live at is what is now a memorial site. There is not yet dancing.

We returned to Lira where the church community celebrated the master’s degree of their pastor. There were speeches, greetings, and dancing, and dancing and dancing. I danced with Ugandan women who told me I was good dancer and tried to teach me new moves (with laughter on both sides as I’m not a quick learner). I saw children imitating my moves and I couldn’t help but smile at what they should unlearn when I depart. We danced to worship music, songs of freedom and praise to God.

Yesterday I played one of the children the song “God’s Great Dance Floor” by Chris Tomlin. I used to play it with a finger or toe tapping. Now it has new meaning.

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Grateful Kids – a few thoughts

I have been sharing with friends, family, and co-workers about my upcoming trip to Uganda. In my office I have pictures of children from Moldova, Haiti, and Mexico that make me smile. The children are smiling, and the times I pause long enough to think of the circumstances they live in I am humbled.

A co-worker mentioned in passing that the children in Uganda will be so grateful for whatever I bring and share with them. It was implied that they will be so much more grateful than so many of the kids here in the U.S. My response most likely was unexpected. I don’t want them to be grateful. What? Huh?

Let me explain, yes I do want them to be thankful and have an attitude of gratitude. Yet I want that for any kid, any person, and for myself. I want kids to be grateful for a beautiful sunny day here in New England or in Uganda. I want my students here to be thankful for extra help from a teacher just as I want the same for a student in Uganda. I hope that a teenage girl getting a new pair of shoes here is full of smiles just as a teenager in Uganda would be. Will they be more grateful in Uganda? I don’t want them to be. We should all be challenged to have a grateful heart in all circumstances. We are challenged: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
All circumstances, running water and electricity or not (feel free to remind me about running water in a few weeks). However I also don’t want the children in Uganda to need to be grateful for adult attention, medical care, clean water, education, or a loving home. I want all children to have these basics, and even more, and to be grateful in those circumstances never experiencing the lack of them.

I don’t want children or myself to be grateful as I compare my circumstances to others rather to be thankful in the circumstances I know to be my own.

Enjoy the pics… A sampling from above my desk.

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A Uganda Theme Song

Downloading new music about 6 weeks ago I came across my theme song for the summer. It was apparent as soon as I heard it the first time. Audio Adrenaline’s song Kings and Queens speaks to the hope of children, to be loved but also to change the world.

A few of the lyrics, both a challenge and prayer to God:

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
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these

I wondered why Audio Adrenaline wrote this song and found they have a connection with Haiti supporting the Hands and Feed Project
On the website a video by Jeremy Cowart one of my favorite photographer/artists highlights children in Haiti. However he also has a video from art therapy in Lira , Uganda with former soldiers. Check in out Here . I believe I had originally heard about this project on Catalyst Podcast (though I couldn’t find the episode). Though my work will be with Children of the Nations I also am headed to Lira, Uganda!

Red Sox player’s have a theme song playing as they come up to bat and many Olympic athlete’s are shown listening to music just before they compete. As I get ready to go to Africa and my playing field is Lira Uganda my theme song will be Kings and Queens because that is who I will be spending time with.

My Summer Vacation – Uganda Bound July 2013

Uganda Bound, that’s it in a nutshell. The rumblings began along time ago. When they started I’m not quite sure. Seeing a documentary, a National Geographic special, 20/20, reading Kisses from Katie or Love Does I’m not quite sure but in reality I’m not sure it matters as what it all points to is that God has been stirring my heart. When I began working in a school my goal was to use my summers wisely. I began to think of my skills as a social worker with traumatized kids, children in residential care, and my experiences with similar kids in various parts of the world I realized an ideal summer “vacation” would be to use my skills in a new way. Over a school cafeteria lunch conversation with a Gordon College social work intern at my school I learned about a consultant program through Children of the Nations . COTN Uganda has over 60 orphaned children who make their home at the Children’s Village and approximately 200 more who attend school as they also have lost parents and live in single parent homes or with relatives.

For the month of July I’ll be serving as a Social Work Consultant and living in the Children’s Village (without electricity or running water!) in Lira, Northern Uganda. The ambitious goals identified by COTN staff include supporting the “mothers” and teachers in the children’s village, completing assessments, making recommendations for some specific special needs kids, and recommending some “best practices” moving forward. I could not be more excited about what God is planning for this partnership.

Thanks for your continued support as friends and family! My hope and plan, dependent upon electricity and internet, is to keep you informed via this blog and facebook once a week.

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does The Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

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Sometimes Sermons Need a Pause Button

“I’m confused.” That is what my church companion whispered to me during the sermon. “If we are not supposed to put our families and jobs first what are we supposed to put first?” It was the Sunday School answer I gave her, “Jesus.” One word whispered to her as the sermon continued.

Earlier there had been a song with the words “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts, let us not lift our souls to another.” She stated “I don’t know what this means.” There wasn’t the opportunity for discussion, we were singing, and I don’t quite know what I said in response. The comment made me more cognizant of the language used, the religious type church words. Words like idol, sovereign, soul, cleansed, and even worship. Then the Bible passage was about this guy Paul in Ephesus and I could tell she was confused.   What did he and this city she had never heard of have to do with God and his son Jesus. She likes Jesus and has accepted what she understands of him. She even loves him some but it’s hard to love someone when you don’t know them well and aren’t quite sure how to learn more about them.

It’s as if she has just tuned in to an amazing story and needs to be filled in.

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I wanted to explain more about Jesus and how this guy Paul’s life had been transformed. I wanted to explain what the passage in Acts was about. I wanted to explain how Acts fits into the Bible. I wanted to explain the Bible. I wanted to talk about Jesus. We have talked about Jesus at times, which I’m sure is the reason she asked me to bring her to church. There was some conversation after church trying to explain and understand how she experienced the morning. She wasn’t dissuaded about not fully understanding church or Jesus, she wants to return.

I had a similar experience a few years ago. My friend sat with me in church wondering about the words in a song and the content of the sermon. He asked some questions and I’m sure I muddled through some answers. He liked Jesus too but we’ve had enough conversations that he knows loving Jesus is something different.

It got me to thinking that we have the opportunity to be the pause button on the sermon. Sometimes the sermon is at church from the minister.  However at other times the sermon is an act of service, a story, a song, a gift, or a kind word. When we are given the opportunity to pause the sermon and explain it I pray that we have the opportunity to answer “Jesus” but sometimes even a bit more than that. I don’t want to miss that I can hit the pause button to explain the great story of God’s love sent through Jesus to those who have just tuned in.