Blog Archives

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.

Advertisements

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.

20130806-174054.jpg

20130806-174157.jpg

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.

20130806-165825.jpg

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.

20130725-183208.jpg

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.

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.

20130725-174601.jpg

20130725-174657.jpg

20130725-174620.jpg

20130725-182533.jpg

20130725-182551.jpg

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.

20130719-182028.jpg

20130719-182020.jpg

20130719-182041.jpg

20130719-182011.jpg

20130719-182059.jpg

20130719-182002.jpg

20130719-181949.jpg

20130719-181936.jpg

My Ugandan Neighborhood

My new neighborhood, a Ugandan village. I wake up on Monday morning ready to work. It is rural Uganda however and it takes a while for the daily chores and tasks to be completed. The children in the COTN Children’s Village start getting up at 5:30 and 6am. There is water to be pumped, food that must be prepared, clothes to be washed, floors to be swept, beds to be made, and most importantly a time to have for prayer and devotion. I woke to Kumbya being song at 6:30am one morning and other mornings the children and staff sing songs to God as they work. But if music and pots clanging don’t wake me up the roosters are like the back up alarm clock.

I have started working on the child profiles and getting just a glimpse of the children’s stories. Parents who have died to HIV/AIDS, grandparents who have been unable to care for their grandchildren, parents lost to the Barlonyo massacre (the word alone is difficult to write), parents who have committed suicide, or some who have abandoned their children. I need much more information from the teachers, Mamas, counseling staff, sponsorship coordinator, and interviews with the children themselves yet I feel that I have a plan that will hopefully get much accomplished. After connecting with many of the adolescent girls I’ve decided to run some counseling groups with Chelsea, an intern who is in school for a master’s in counseling. She is excited and we have some fun activities planned with the girls for the next couple of weeks. The girls also seem very positive about the idea of meeting together.

The past few days I have woken up early to take a brisk walk. It’s not a common sight here in Uganda, they don’t walk for exercise rather they conserve their energy and walk with purpose as so much of their day involves physical labor of some sort. (It’s quite possible all the pumping of water I’m doing must work some muscles that would rival any gym workout) As I head out just before 7am the sun is rising children are starting to arrive to school. The song that is playing on my headphones is God of Brilliant Lights by Aaron Shust. As I walk around the school the children are shy and try not to stare at the white person exercising, however the do. If they are more bold they practice their English and wish me a “Good Morning.” As I walk down the road past one of the local wells I exchange greetings with children, mothers, and men and women on bikes and motorcycles. This afternoon I also went out for a brisk walk which turned into a run as Guito, a village child who attends the school, grabbed my hand. He would not let me slow to a walk rather we ran to his home. Thankfully it was only about 1/4 mile away. It was a mud hut with a straw roof. He entered it to grab a stool and have me rest (clearly I looked like I needed it). I offer thanks for the rest and get up continuing my walk. I’m greeted by name by a woman from the church who is riding her Borda (motorcycle) down the road. Then a number of primary school boys begin following me, clearly talking about the white (Muno) person walking, and from the shadows I can tell they are attempting to imitate how I walk. At one point I turned around abruptly startling them and we all break out in laughter. They are like any other elementary school boys full of curiosity and mischief.

I look forward to more days to see and talk with my new neighbors. As the brilliance of God’s light is shining here in Uganda, breaking through the darkness, may it also be as brilliant in your life as well.

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.

20130706-195912.jpg

20130707-112256.jpg

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.

20130624-204225.jpg

20130624-204252.jpg

20130624-204307.jpg

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.