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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.

Glimpses of the Kingdom

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. 

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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

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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Girls Group – Uganda

Though I’ve been working on the Child Profiles that were a primary task of my trip I’ve also been connecting with many of the girls. They are full of life and joy and range from ages about 5 to 17. As students get older and pass their exams the cultural norm is to head off to a boarding secondary school, which COTN continues to sponsor for the children. This week national staff will go to visiting day for some of the boarding students. They are preparing special food to take to them.

As I prayed it became clear that running some girls groups/meetings could work out really well. So Tuesday night we prepped the P4,P5,and P6 girls. They are adolescents (late middle school – early high school girls). We decided on the topics to discuss and the idea of talking about boys was met with giggles. They also want to talk about feeling very sad or angry, the future, and we plan to lead them in some exercises to help them talk about their God-given strengths and abilities.

Yesterday Chelsea, who is an Intern/Consultant, and myself headed in to meet with 11 girls. We were armed with some activities, and candy. Our first meeting went well and we plan to meet with them again Friday and a couple of times a week during our time here. Though there was sadness when they talked about losing parents there was also joy as they talked about dreams. In this group of girls there are many many who want to be accountants, nurses and doctors. They want to learn to drive, fly to America, and to have many children they open their home up to. They are hardworking girls, fully of life and hope.

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Why am I Going to Uganda?

That was the question asked Friday afternoon of me of a young adult I have known since she was 12. I realized I muddled through. I didn’t want it to sound like a canned church answer “because I felt God asking me to go.” She wouldn’t have understood that anyway and neither would I. What I really wanted to say to this young adult is that I’m going in part because of her. Eventually I did tell her that after more muddling.

As a social worker I’ve heard a lot of stories, and when the opportunity has allowed I’ve walked with people with them for a time as their stories have unfolded. My hope has been that I have walked alongside them as they heal and grow. From my observation there are 2 significant types of brokenness in the world, the injustice kind and the “imperfect world” kind. I believe there is is some much more theological term for the later but work with me here I’m sitting in an airport with sleep depravation.

The injustice kind of brokenness. It’s about war, violence, greed, hate, corruption, meanness, and lots of “uncaring.” Broken systems that don’t hold people accountable for bad behavior and systems that don’t look out for those that can’t care for themselves, that’s injustice.

The imperfect world kind of brokenness. Accidents, sickness, and destructive weather patterns.

If the 2 collide then it’s overwhelming chaos. The Haiti Earthquake was a prime example – a country filled with a government that has historically been injust and people struggling to feed their families and educate their children is further broken by a natural disaster.

Uganda has been ravaged by injustice and the challenges of a developing country. Yet the hope for all of us is brokenness can mend. Often when something like a bone is broken it will heal and actually become stronger than before. That’s my prayer, that’s a bit of why I’m going to Uganda because healing and growing the heart and mind is messy business. It’s the journey I am humbled to take with people.

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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