Category Archives: Friends

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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The Grace of Jenga and Competition

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.

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Good Work in Uganda

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

Sound and Sights

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.

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A Walk in the Bush

Saturday – a more relaxed day and chores do not start at 5am or even 6am. In he afternoon the interns and the other consultants went to visit some of the kids who now study at a nearby boarding school. As I haven’t previously met these former full care kids I decided to continue to my sewing project and go for a walk. I asked many of the younger (elementary school) kids if they wanted to go with me. My plan was to go on my usual 2 mile walk in the Neighborhood. Oscar however had another idea and we decided to take a path going back to the school another way. The shortcut through the bush weaved among many yards, around mud huts with grass roofs, and the kids ducked under laundry to continue on the path. We were pointed the way to cross over the stream. As with any good trek there must be an obstacle to make the adventure complete.

We came to the stream, or more of a muddy ditch and the the choice needed to be made about crossing. Oscar ran and jumped it with ease. The girls walked to the edge and considered it. I asked if they wanted to walk back to the road, a wavering yes by one or two by the girls, and then another boy jumped. It was time for me to make the leap and lead the way. A run and jump and one of my feet landing squarely in the mud to my ankle Laugher all around. More jumping and a hand lent to help dear little Beatrice and we were all over. The children laughed and the walk continued as my toes squished with each step in the mud and water soaked sneaker. Finally as we all reached the school building I asked them to wait.

A line up, each inching forward to get an edge. Ready, Set, Go! We raced the final 200 feet home as the rainstorm began. A perfect Saturday adventure in Uganda.

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You’re all Fat

Saturday I was sitting with a group of girls. I was helping one sew a skirt by hand. She is about 8 and we were putting a simple stitch in to make a seam (thanks Mom). If I didn’t look at them, rather focused on the sewing, they kept touching my skin and each freckle. If I happened to look up they would suddenly realized I knew they were studying me and possibly could feel them touching me. I let them stare at my skin and run their hands over my white arms as I sewed. Then they informed me “you’re fat.” Thankfully I had already had a conversation with Jimmy one of the fantastic National COTN staff. He had informed me that it’s a complement in Uganda to be called fat. To be be fat means that you look good, healthy, nice, etc.

Without a doubt I’m sure you all look wonderfully fat today.

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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.

I wanted a sermon pause button.Image

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.

Into the Horizon

The snow continues to fall outside the window of parent’s home in Vermont. Miles and miles of white fields lay on the horizon. The night will prove to be brilliant once the clouds clear and the moon shimmers glistening on new snow. Fresh powder always seems to have a mystery of jewels as it sparkles. It’s been much too long since the snow has serenaded us. The world feels expansive with snow covered fields that seem an unending horizon.

In the coming weeks I’ll be moving a couple of towns away after 14 years in the same home. It’s been a wonderful place to live for a variety of reasons, however one reason that I will miss is horizon. Though I live in a town, a village of sorts, my bedroom is on the third floor of a home set on a hill. My bedroom window faces east and the sun regularly wake me up. No neighbors can peak into my windows and my shades are never drawn. Many mornings pinks, oranges, and reds are found on the horizon and it seems the masterpieces have been scripted just for me. I know that just beyond the window lays a village, fields, woods, a beautiful beach and the Atlantic.

Growing up in in Vermont brilliant sunsets are common though were never taken for granted. Whether it is the sun setting over Lake Champlain or settling for the night behind a hill, the canvas is continually changing. It seems it is always improving. Many a day my parents would call to us to see the display of beauty which God was painting. There is also a drive I love to take through the Champlain Valley with the rugged Adirondack Mountains and glimpses of Lake Champlain on one horizon and the soft Green Mountains on the other. Even as a child I knew that this display was magnificent.

On my way to work I drive through conservation and state forest land. Fields lay on both sides with perfectly set trees that solicit dreams of picnics, long walks and carriage rides. Often there are glimpses of deer or in the fall an expansive pumpkin patch. Horses find their way to barns for hay as I attempt to savor a few more minutes without reviewing a list of tasks and crises. My thoughts in the first few miles of this drive typically turn to God who it seems has orchestrated a perfect commute for this girl who longs for the horizon.

When I go too long without a view of the horizon there is something that goes amiss within my soul. My world seems smaller, the possibilities for the future bland, and my restlessness can’t be identified. With the horizon it’s easy to remember there are adventures to be had, relationships yet to be discovered, and a journey that is unfolding. The mystery of horizon is that it is ever changing whether it is jeweled snow, erupting pumpkin patches, dazzling sunsets, spirited sunrises or courageous explorers on a quest. I long to move into the horizon, to take the walks, hike and ski the mountains, kayak the oceans, swim the lakes, and meet those also on the journey. Each day there is new light, colors, people, and beauty to behold. My soul longs for the horizon and what lies ahead. My prayer is to move into the horizon knowing I will not capture it rather allow myself to be captured by the one who created it.

 

Waiting for Water