Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On the Ground in Israel

The Israel team is on the ground and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Click on the links under "Other Israel Blogs" on the right hand side of this page to follow those who are blogging about this trip.

The Truth is Hard to Tell

I thought the blogging was done...but in my reflecting I feel there is something very important that I have not mentioned. I'm not sure why now except it is not my gift and I try very hard not to leave it up to me but to others to tell the story. I am a leader in almost every where I go but in this. I have good morals and God and church and family are very important to me. Someone needs to tell people about Jesus but that is not my gift so I pray that it doesn't get left up to me. But now I feel that I have to tell the truth that is in my heart.

You see I traveled half way around the world and had no problem sharing my heart; my love for my saviour; my love for Jesus Christ. Now I have never been one to preach to others because I truly hate to be preached to. I hope that the way I live shows my love. But I know many great people who give of themselves like no others and yet don't know our Lord. So just being a good person doesn't always reflect who we are and what we believe. We need to tell those we love about Jesus and yet sharing with those we love the most, and we most want to be saved, is the hardest thing for many of us. At least I know it is for me. I tend to shy away and not say a word. Someone aught to tell them about Jesus - they need to know. But that isn't my gift so you probably shouldn't leave that up to me. But if not for me than who. Who will tell the ones I love and who will tell your loved ones. So here I go. I am bearing my soul and I hope it changes just one life.

My children brought me to Christ and I will be forever indebted and grateful. One of my greatest regrets is that the roles weren't reversed and I didn't do that for them. None the less at this time it really doesn't matter. My faith has changed my world. I know now that I am never alone. I have faith to know that He will never leave me and the comfort in that is overwhelming. He knows me like no other and he hears me when I pray to Him even when my prayers seem so insignificant. He has wrapped me in his arms and He loves me even though I really don't deserve His love. He made me just as He did so in His eyes I am perfect in spite of all my perceived imperfections. Being able to share His love with my family is amazing and I wish I could share it with everyone I know and love. All I had to do to have this amazing gift be a part of my life was to believe that Jesus died on the cross for ME and accept him into my heart. Once I did nothing was ever the same. Don't get me wrong (and for those of you who know me well you can certainly confirm this many, many times over) I still do stupid things and say all the wrong things. But I know I am forgiven and thus get a clean slate to move forward. What a blessing. I would love to share my journey with anyone who asks for it is quite a journey. Every one needs to know and everyone needs to see, but you probably shouldn't leave it up to me! Remember it is not my gift.

The other reflection I had was the sameness and the difference in our two churches. At Riverside, a team of dedicated souls gets to church at 7 am to set up the stage for the music, the curtains to contain the church setting, the chairs, etc. We have a sound system, a screen to project the words to the music, the words from the Bible, and whatever else we may need and of course doughnuts to welcome the folks when they enter. We hand out programs with all the news of what is taking place during the coming week and we have both parking attendants and a welcoming committee. Though we worship in basically a play center we do everything we can to present a church atmosphere. In Iganga we worshipped in an empty building. On the front wall someone had written in big white letters "Spider Man". In smaller letters above it, it must have at one time read, "This is not a church". Someone had erased the not, so there is now a space between "This is" and "a church". They dragged in wooden benches with no backs where the kids sat 6-8 to a bench during the service. We have Glenn that leads our singing and worship time. They have a woman who leads there's but there are several groups of children that come up and not only sing but dance. No microphones - they just shout out their songs with dancing and smiles. The singing and dancing goes on for a good long time and they are in no hurry for it to end. There is no projector to show the words though there was a young boy pounding on a drum. When the benches are full the kids take to the floor. It is truly standing room only.

What I came away from church is that "church" is the same regardless of where you are. The important thing is that we worship our Lord and that can be done in any language in any building. There doesn't need to be an alter, the building doesn't have to be pretty, the language doesn't have to be understood. The truth is in our hearts and that can be done anywhere.

In closing, I'm sure there will be more revelations as I continue to sort through all my pictures and things come to mind. But for today telling about our Lord is NOT my gift and not something I am comfortable with. But I did it in Iganga with such a peaceful heart I just knew I had to do it here. I hope I have given some of you the courage to do the same. In His love, Sue

Monday, July 12, 2010

Final Thoughts

I have now been home for a few days and have decided to try to recap the trip though I'm not sure I can put that in words on paper. The trip was an experience of a lifetime and I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone and meet our children on the other side of the world. The truth is that regardless of where they are children are children. They still like to play and they still want to be noticed and loved. Nothing is different than our kids here. Instinctively they are the same. These children have the most giving and loving hearts. And even though they knew we would be leaving them behind they were not afraid to open up and share themselves with us. They gave us their hearts and their souls and I will treasure that forever. I have to say I question how it is for them to know that we get to leave at the end of our time there and they will always be left behind. That part of the journey really bothered me. The tears they shed as we left were sincere and huge. There lives would go back to normal. Nothing would change. We had come and we had left just like other mission teams before us. I am still processing the goodness of that. I know we made a difference. I know that our love (as sincere as anything they showed us) made an impact, but how many, if any of us, will ever get a chance to go back. I have to say, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Those kids are now a part of my life and they touched my heart in ways I didn't think possible. I have been touched by lives I will think about often and would love to reach out and touch again. I'd love to take Cody, Sam, Kari, John and of course Steve with me. My family would just love on these kids and it would be an amazing experience to share as a family.

One of the things that Riverside Church talks a lot about is community. I feel like we live in a great community. We come together in times of difficulty and this has been true since we first moved here almost 15 years ago. My friendships here are strong and I love the people in the area. But I saw community in Iganga like I have never seen here. Here we have doors and we tend to come home and shut them to the world. We come in and shut out the world hiding in our air conditioned houses among ourselves. In Iganga there are no real doors. As a result the people sit on their front stoops all together - the adults and the kids. Children are running around everywhere and I never walked or drove down a rural road without seeing people on the streets. I miss the people. I miss that level of community. I had the sense that everyone knew every one and though they didn't have much they took care of one another. We as strangers came and their children walked (actually ran) right up to us. The mothers didn't shield their children from a stranger who might harm them. They sat on the stoop and watched with smiles on their faces as we interacted. There was no fear that we would harm their children. There was no stranger danger. We were taking pictures of their children. There was no fear of us posting them on the Internet and it going to a porn sight or some equally dangerous sight. There was a certain innocence that has long been missing from this country of ours. And it was a delight to see. The sense of community was amazing.

Along those same lines of community, our group of twelve was a very strong knit group. We bonded by the end of the first flight and the bond continued to grow throughout the trip. Everyone brought their own gift to the team but no one was afraid to jump in and help regardless of what was needed. The days were long and the sleep was short and tempers could have flared, but they didn't. God was definitely with us and he provided exactly what we needed when we needed. I know this first hand because my biggest prayer was for strength to make it through the trip. I was the oldest by several years (hence the name "Grandmother") and did not start out in very good shape. And yet, I managed to keep up though we burned the candle at both ends. I may have been dragged up Sipi Falls but I was there at the top with the rest of the team. And for the rest of the team I was there with the best of them! The weather was perfect the entire time we were there and we managed to accomplish quite a bit of what we had planned. The part, unfortunately, that kept getting pushed back, was VBS. In hindsight, this is a part that we need to ensure (in my opinion) doesn't take the back seat in future trips. It was a part that guaranteed we spent fun time with the kids and got to share about our Lord. In Uganda there is an unwritten rule that we had to visit and eat with several people who we have previously established relationships with. I have absolutely nothing against eating with these folks as it was a pleasure every time - to meet with them, see where they live and meet their families - but I wish we could have fit VBS in as well. On all three occasions it was very refreshing to see new surroundings in Iganga and always a challenge to see what the meal consisted of. Anyway, back to community I was blessed to have such a great group to travel with. I have made eleven new friends who I will always hold dear in my heart. What we shared will tie us together for a lifetime.

We left Iganga at 9 am on Monday morning our time and traveled to Jinja for some shopping. We all wanted the opportunity to buy some souvenirs to bring back and the chance to get in some bargaining. We stopped at a restaurant that served delicious food we actually recognized (I had something similar to a chicken fajita) and then crossed the street to shop. The wood working in Jinja was beautiful. Every African animal you can imagine carved in wood. I was in heaven. We spent a few hours there and headed to the source of the Nile River. I have to admit, the Nile is something I never ever thought I would see in this lifetime. And there we were. It was absolutely beautiful! Incredibly beautiful in fact. And right there to my left was a young man washing his clothes in the river. Here we were in awe and to him it was just another day to launder his clothing. I was struck by the wonder and the common place all at the same time. To my right another gentleman was bathing in the river. Again to him it was just another day. To us, it was magnificent. Pure beauty. And sadly enough at this time next year there will be a dam right there where we were standing. The beauty as we saw it will be gone. I found it difficult to comprehend the poverty and desperation on one hand and the pure beauty on the other all in the same place. Uganda is a beautiful country both in scenery and in its people. Smiles come easily for a nation so ravaged by poverty.

We then traveled to Kampala where we spent the night. This time our reservation was still valid and they had not given away our rooms. The hotel was really nice - hot water - soft beds and a great pizza place within walking distance. By the time we got back to the hotel we barely had time to enjoy the splendor as we were all asleep within minutes. The next morning we got up and met a friend of Brian's who is living in Uganda for lunch and then slowly started our trek back to Entebbe to the airport as our flight left late that night. We were all sad to leave Uganda as it had been a fabulous two weeks though I think we were all ready to get home and see our families. On the way we stopped to see the airplane that in the early 70's had been hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe. It is now permanently parked near a public beach so we got to see the plane and the beach. Near the beach were to camels not tied to anything. The first time we approached the camels one of them charged Kayla and almost got her with his hoof. Well this is all Jaimie and I needed. The stage was set and we were determined to pet them and win the war though Kayla had almost lost the battle. And I will have you know we did. I have a picture of me petting the camel. I may look a little leery but I did it!!

Our trip was not over yet...we finally boarded the plane headed for Amsterdam. Most of us by this point were hot, sweaty and tired. The first leg of the trip many of us slept and so all the cool stuff (movies, food, etc.) we missed out on. We landed in Amsterdam at 5:30 am their time, stowed our backpacks in lockers and took off to see the city. Our timing was perfect. The country had just won the semi-finals to the World Cup so their world was rockin'. There were orange decorations and soccer balls everywhere which was awesome for a soccer fan like me. We hiked around and finally found an amazing restaurant (though our opinion might be a little skewed based on what we'd been eating for the past two weeks) and sat down to some french toast and breads like none other. Breakfast was great!!! Then we took a boat ride through the canal and got to see the city from the water. Obviously didn't see it all, but we did get a feel for Amsterdam and it was much better than spending 8 hours in the airport. We had a chance to take the train, to walk the streets and to take a tour. All the while celebrating with them their victory the day before. And finally we headed back through security (for me it was the second to last time to drag the computer out of my very full backpack) and boarded the plane for another almost nine hour flight. And let me tell you this flight was LONG!!! Every time I looked up at the remaining time it seemed like only 15 or 20 had passed. It was a lot like the "Song that never ends!" Finally after a very short layover in Atlanta where some of us (myself included) had to go through customs we were on our way back home. By this time home was something none of us were taking for granted. We were all so ready to be there.

We were greeted at the airport by all our families and friends from the church who had seen us off. It was so good to see friendly faces. And though we greeted each one with a smile and a hug we were all ready to grab our bags and head home to our own beds. Somehow I've been back for less than a week and the trip already seems like a lifetime ago. I have over 8,000 pictures to go through (and that doesn't count Amanda's who took some magnificent photos) and I'm sure I will be looking at them for years to come. The trip was amazing. It was nothing like I imagined it would be, and everything I hoped it would be. I would love to have had more time with the kids. I would love to have gotten to know every one of them, but in two weeks that was impossible. I would love to have every sponsor get a chance to visit their child because every child (and I mean every child I spoke with) asked when THEIR sponsor would be coming. You each mean the world to these kids. Your letters are truly a source of joy to them. They stood in line for over two hours to get your letters and then shared it with every one around them. They had us take pictures of the pictures you sent. There truly is a lifeline between you and them and they are very, very grateful for all you do for them. You may think it is "just" a check you are sending. But to them you are real. You are a person who has changed their world. They know that and they are eternally grateful. They love you for what you have done for them. You can email them at Phil's email address and he will make sure they get your letter. If they don't speak English someone will translate for them. I would love to go back and see them all again and build on the relationship I have started.

I want to thank each of you who supported us financially and in prayer. You too, changed lives. We medically treated many children while we were there and we've left behind medical supplies to use in the future. You all made this possible. I thank each of you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you've been able to read this blog and see what an impact this trip has had on me. I have been blessed beyond words and my job now is to share my experience with all the sponsors so they will see these kids for who they are. I want them to be more than a magnet on the refrigerator. I want them to come alive so they can sponsor them with joy.


Click here to see a few pictures from our trip.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mother would not be happy.

This morning, after being told by the resident nurse that I had to start wearing shoes, I jumped backwards off a 110 meter waterfall. After following a stranger into the jungle of Sipi I tightened a rope around my waist and rappelled down the cliff, 15 yards from the fall. To get back to the resort Ryan and I followed a local up a vertical wall, in Chacos with mud up to my knees, and reached the sketchiest ladder I've ever seen. He told me to go first and, “do not get scared and wave your arms, the ladder will fall backwards.” The local then refused to use the ladder and took another trail. Might I add, when we reached the top and decided to race down the winding road, I kicked Ryan's butt.

Then we drove to what we all now feel as home in the worlds most chaotic traffic, where two lane roads are three cars wide and the yellow line down the middle is only suggested. Dodging potholes is a real talent, especially when the car coming towards you is doing the same and the goats don't give you any room to ride the shoulder.
After three U-turns in the middle of the highway we finally found the baboons, yes monkeys. Not only did these monkeys have teeth and snarl, but they ate bananas right out of your hand if you held them out the window far enough. Sorry mom, but today I hand fed a wild baboon.

After two and a half years of not eating meat, I picked Africa to start back up. Not wanting to offend Kyemba and his wife, I swallowed whole the large heaping of fish pieces I was served without a chance to deny. I've never been so thankful for unidentified starches. Tonight at dinner I used bug spray for the first time.

After a long day we are all exhausted and ready for bed. Time to go brush my teeth with the tap water and sleep in my dirty clothes. I love you mom.

Jaimie Piatnik

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Potatoes and a new understanding of family

As I sit here in the kitchen of the place we've been calling home for the past 6 or 7 days; i reflect on what all took place today! as many of you have read we have been busy since the day we got here, which has been wonderful and exhausting at the same time! Today we had an "earlier" start which means that our hobbit hole (Amanda, Sue, Susan and myself) has actually rolled out of bed before 9 am! Phil and Susan took us to "see" the farm when in reality turned out to be more than just seeing! They wanted us to really see and "feel" the farm. After walking through the jungle like scene they referred to as a farm we wind up in a clearer part where there are ant mound resembling piles. It was there that we got our hands on lesson of what it takes to be a potato farmer. As we began to get our hands in the dirt, we began digging into these root infested mounds, many shouts of enjoyment arose as some found their first sign of a potato in the mound! As potatoes went flying and sounds of enjoyment kept coming as the crew began to find small and big potatoes; it was there that some of us found how hard the task really was. In the midst of the hot, sweaty, and dirty mess of things our crew was able to find amusement and began to try and find songs to sing as we worked.........needless to say the singing did not last long ha. I along with many others found that we are not meant to be potato farmers and should therefore keep our day jobs. And for the record it is much easier to use a stick to dig instead of bare hands.

We go from digging out potatoes and eating with the locals of the village, to heading to see our CHILDREN :) For many of you who have ever lead VBS you would know that it is really challenging to lead a group of excited kids. Well try leading a group of about 100+ kids who don't speak your language.....needless to say its not always the easiest thing! As we are excited to see our kids we go to see them only to find out many of them are still at school. One determined team in search for the kids head to school to get our kids! We tour the school to see the rooms with no doors and kids all crammed on a tiny bench all eager to learn.......well at least until the Muzungu's showed up! It was a quaint little place, and a school in which i would want to learn in! So we round up our precious children and head back to the boys house to try and get some VBS in :)

As these eager little kids are interested to see what we have for them today, they continuously jump around us and are ready to play! We settle our crew of crazy excited kids and begin our lesson for the day. We start with a lesson from Romans 5:8 then begin to roll into our bracelet making! What we thought might be a disaster ended up being a success. We helped them make a Witness Bracelet, to help them tell the story and something they could keep as a memory.

Though we began with a fun, potato filled morning, followed by bracelet making with the little kids; the thing that stood out the most was sitting with some of the girls as they sat there and talked before they went to bed. As Nicole and I sat out there and told them about our potato picking adventure they laughed as we demonstrated how hard it was to work in a skirt. It was in this moment that i realized how much we mean to these kids. To some of these kids we (sponsors) are the only family they have, many have either lost both parents or have been kicked to the streets by relatives that were supposed to care for them. We as a community serve an important role in these kids lives. They are so interested to know about us and what America is all about! They want to know about our home lives and how many people live in our home, they thirst for a knowledge and understanding of how we live. As i walked with my sweet girl Sylivia and some of her friends, I was asked the question, "Which is better? Here or America?" Eagerly I responded "Here!" As I got many confused looks I began to explain my reason being this......

Here they live what we would call simple lives. There aren't as many distractions to steer them away from the importance of family, friends, and community. They have a love and respect for one another that totally blows my mind. So while they may think that America is better because of all the stuff (don't get me wrong everything we have is definitely a blessing) in the end it is only stuff. But the thing that will last forever is relationships with one another and with our Creator. So as I look at the simple lives the people of Iganga live, they have shown me the importance of relationships and how a tighter and loving community is something to strive for. We are a family of the Creator and even though some may never have the opportunity to meet face to face with their sponsored child, they consider themselves part of your family and hope to be considered as family. Here to have a community and family that loves you means a lot. Even though these kids and people may live completely different lives than us and are separated by a 19 hour plane ride, an ocean, and a 6 hour car ride; these people are part of OUR community.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

United Team / Conflicting Worlds

The imposed rule that I have set is that the first cryer of the day is responsible for writing the blog. This is usually in place by breakfast and today was no exception. The long day yesterday was a great way to gel the group but also wiped us out. The clinic took us way into darkness last night. What we planned to do in 2-3 days the local doctor tried to force into 1. The group did an amazing job. As the sun set the mosquitoes came out in FORCE so I took a break to see what was happening in the back of the house and lather in bug spray. Among the amazing sites: Blake taking blood pressure and pulse, Tamara working hand in hand with 2 doctors giving assessments and shots, Amanda giving mouth exams and photographing the many decayed teeth and Nicole doing eye exams in the DARK with flashlight on either end. The exhaustion has brought us to a new place in the trip..

There is a point in every trip here when the realization of how we are perceived here comes crashing on you in a very real way. For Ugandans we are called Mazungu. This term of endearment is one (mostly) of respect. There are very few white people in the villages so we stand out from a distance. In many ways our presence is celebrated. We are invited to sit and visit with strangers, we are invited to shop or buy from any vendor, and we are greeted by most who see us on the street - nearly always from the children. From the surface this word Mazungu has an endearing quality. Translated; however, the word means rich white person. In Uganda rich and white are indistinguishable.

This is the point in the trip where the cross of cultures hits home. I stood in John's (out sponsor child) room yesterday for about 20 minutes. The colored concrete floor had been hand swept before I arrived and I stepped over several pair of flip flops in my muddy running shoes to sit on one of the beds. The room has a standard size locally made metal door and a small window. The walls are plaster taped with notes, report cards and occasionally etched with some art and markings of one of the residents. The wood rafters holding the tin roof are covered with running shoes, back packs, drying clothes and lanyards of the mosquito nets that drape the 3 metal bunk beds. At 2 in the afternoon it was mostly dark in the room and there is no lighting or power. I sat and cried for a while at the contract of our worlds. This room would be unsuitable back home for 2 prisoners. Here six boys were proud to call it home. Proud because in this part of the world a plastered wall and a metal roof are nicer than the street or a mud hut. Proud to have a 4" piece of foam they call a mattress to sleep on. Proud because they come from the streets. I sat there thinking about the house I am building at home... 1 bed for every kid and a bathroom for each sex... A castle to anyone in this country. I was embarrassed. As I stood to leave the room I read the sign at the bottom of the door neatly written "Please remove your shoes".

Our kids eat 3 meal a day. For breakfast they eat porridge - a spiceless watered down version of our oatmeal made from corn. For lunch and dinner (everyday) they eat pinto beans and posho - cornmeal stewed into a mash. At the house we have been eating at a large wooden table covered with 2 table clothes. It takes the whole room to feed the 13+ of us leaving minimal room for a fridge, computer table, floor mounted fan and a cupboard with all of the plates, silverware and coffee mugs. There is a large window facing the front yard that has old white sheets with a blue floral print neatly sewn together and hung on a strip of bailing wire attached to a wooden window frame by 3 temporary drywall screws. Our meals have been different from the kids. WE have been treated to many favorites from here and home. Mac and cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, chicken, goat, beef and eggs. TO drink we have ice cold bottled water or a selection of Cokes and local sodas. At night when we eat we close the window sheets. I am told that it is to keep the neighbors from looking in. I have my doubts... I am fairly confident that the 6 foot tall plastered courtyard wall keeps their views blocked. Closing them seems to be a bad idea too since it stops the only real airflow into the room. Nevertheless, we close them. I HAVE noticed that they do a fairly good job of disguising what we are eating from the orphans playing on the other side in the front yard. I am not sure they would really mind or be surprised. The only place to wash food is in the back courtyard that connects the house to their rooms and their outdoor unplumbed bathroom. The only way into the house from the courtyard is through a see thru screened door that leads into the kitchen. Needless to say, I am sure they are aware of what we eat. Sitting in the dining room this morning, I really felt like an American as I "earned" the right to blog today. I felt like an American doing our part to "help" the needy hiding behind a transparent sheet.

The truth of our trip is that we have become more aware of what we have and what people here don't. By the time we leave I will have many new and strengthen Ugandan relationships, 11 new American friends and many stories to tell. My hope is that we can look beyond the things we "have" a gain an appreciation for what matters when you don't... Pride for what you do have, thankfulness, and a clinging to God's provision as though life depends on it. It really does regardless of what you "have". My prayer is that both cultures can find genuine discipleship in the process.

Your Kingdom Come


Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Today was clinic...130+ files, pics, charts, eye exams, HIV test, polio, tetanus, and measles vaccines, vital signs, dental exams, and letters to sponsors.  Praise God...ZERO HIV positive


That's it for now. We're tired and going to bed.  We'll get back to creativity tomorrow. J


Love to all!








Monday, June 28, 2010

Dances With Widows

     Sooo...the team had its first fight today. The time was 3am, the place was the mens dorm, and the best part; no one involved in the fight was awake to win it. But luckily I was there to witness my first sleeptalking argument from the safety of my top bunk. Full credit to my bottom bunk buddy, Ryan, for starting it off by screaming “STOP!!!” (ill let him tell you the details of the dream he was having, apparently I was spraying him with pesticide), following was Josh's witty retort, and I quote here; “Soolinjabberblah!”. Sure enough Brian quickly ended the dispute by snoring like a hibernating bear who's nostrils are made of french horns. That was the debut to our 4th day in the African heartland,and although the rest of the day may have followed in the same scattered pattern of confusion and laughter, I'm not sure you could ask for a more fufilling day.

     Lets start with some daily irony, shall we? There are only two “White Houses” I'm aware of. One being Phil's house (Casa Blanca) here in Africa, and the other being the Presidential White House located in America. Right now there are Americans living in the one in Africa, and there is an African living in the one in America. Every thing's in its right place.

     Pre-breakfast was filled with a walkabout through the red streets of Iganga; streets full of commuters on bicycles, businesses unfolding for the day, and school kids happily hand in hand with a few of us Texans. Parting with one kid meant joining with another as we enjoyed being out numbered. An occasional stench from rotting trash or a tattered mud hut might be the only things there to remind you that your walking down anything less than a fertile community; full of people who understand joy and how to pass it on via smile. Ryan and Jamie take this chance to visit a African Chipate street stand and migrate back to the house for breakfast with two bags full of what we made out to be as fried tortillas.
      After we all survived the subtle heart attacks attached with eating something like that, we focused on the task at hand; labeling 200 custom hand crafted neon name tags with the VBS children's beautifully unpronounceable names. Brilliant! To be honest, in the midst of all the focusing, I found myself lost outside with Kayla, soaking a Slinky in bubble solution trying to reinvent the entertainment wheel. After figuring that no matter how many times I submerged that Slinky in bubble juice, it was not going to send soapy spheres flying in every which direction when I churned its springs. So we soon celebrated our defeat by heading out the main gate for two and a half hours of improvisation with the neighborhood kids. My time was spent watching the thrill seeking kids eat bubbles out of thin air while a dozen of the more curious-from-a-distance children were making themselves comfortable surrounding Kayla's lap. Either way, I was happy to be on their side of the fence.

      Now back at Phil's house, we have some issues to tackle, one being the yardbirds. After several consecutive 5 O'clock wake up calls provided to us by the roosters in the front yard, the vote was in, and rooster/chicken was on the menu for tonight's dinner. So the hunt was on for fowl. Most of the team felt obligated to participate, so out we went with a common goal so dignified, the walkout the door was almost in slow motion. Brian, our fearless leader, does what any self-respecting chicken hunter would do, and grabs a 2x4 board...priceless. For the next 10 min we played a classic game of Scare-the-chickens-from-one-unreachable-spot-to-another; but by the 11th minute Phil's main man, Ibra, was cleaning them. Job well done A-team.... B-team? OK B-team.
     VBS! Today was the day we cut the ribbon on a four day commitment of fun and fellowship that scales language barriers, cultural differences, and sunburn. Passing out the name tags became a lotto, but everyone eventually came out a winner. After re-organizing under a tree, you better believe we sang like we were the ones who put the "dang" in dangerous. So what if we had to belt an alternative version of "peace like a river" 4 or 5 times to get down the hand motions. After we broke down the choir, we went right into nameless games and did not stop until the van called us back home.

     On the way home, we made a stop to the Widows home, where 15 or so lioness women knitting, weaving, and pioneering making ends meet and looking after one another. Most of these ladies are the mothers of the children Phil looks after. They graciously invited us in to greet them, look around, buy anything we would like to take home to you all, and then we promptly relocated outside for what I can best describe as a welcoming ceremony. There we are on one side sitting in every chair and on any bench they could find while they take the mats and floor seats, leaving a ten foot gap in between the them and us. The awkward space was soon trumped by an elderly widow who had a dance move or two left in her. Could have been something in the air, or maybe fact no one should ever dance alone, but I stood up to dance with her and discovered that moving like Shakira is only a decision away.

     In the end, we got to pray over those Women, and in doing so, couldn't help leaving feeling like amen wasn't enough this time, and the next chance we get to love their children for them, may we do it in a moment of surrender, with all the more selflessness, and in such a way, words become evaporative, and we are left with only the faith that we attempted to love as hard as Christ calls us to. Always with his Strength, if only so its not our own.



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pancakes, Praise, and Pizza

Iganga. Day 2...or is it day 3? Either way, the saga continues! I don't think my new Riverside family realizes just how long winded this gal can be when I was nominated as blogger this morning. So get comfy, you might want to grab a snack and some water.

This morning we were greeted by Colton helping make banana pancakes to the musical stylings of Jack Johnson. That's right folks, Banana Pancakes. Double thumbs up.

Sunday. Worship day! After our lovely breakfast, donning our Sunday accoutrement, we piled into the vehicles. Aza, one of the boys who's crippled from Polio, had been left behind and needed someone to push his wheelchair. Brian promptly volunteered and started the trek towards the church. After we were all finally locked and loaded and headed down the way, we came upon Brian and Aza. Susan promptly raced toward Brain's, ahem, rear, honking. Completely unphased, he promptly sat on the hood as she came to a stop. When they started up again, Aza started turning the chair back and forth so they moved in a serpentine pattern while Brian stuck out his tukus and wagged it about. I'm scarred for life. Thank goodness we were headed for church. Everyone in that car, not to mention within visual distance, needed LOTS of prayer. It became follow the leader. Get a picture: wheelchair, Brian (whose hips don't lie), and a car following very closely, honking the whole way; are you with me here?

Africa Riverside church is part of the school, New Grace, and the service was amazing. I've never seen worship like that. And it had nothing to do with the singing, dancing, clapping, prayer, or sermon, it was their hearts. What a contrast: those with comparatively so little had the most passionate, heart-adoration in their worship of our Lord. The minute the entire congregation sang together, I instantly had a vision of worshipping together in heaven. This visit isn't really a visit; it's an introduction. These are brothers and sisters we'll spend eternity with. I cried. I did that a lot today. I shared during our morning devotion that God continues to bring perspective to my heart. It's a common saying that for those who are lost, this life is the most heaven they'll ever see, while for those who are saved, this is the most hell they'll ever see. What an amazingly vivid picture that is here. That made me the first cryer of the day. And thus, the blogger. Watching them, it's evident the joy of the Lord is their strength; He is their comfort, their provider, their all in all. Here it's more than a concept, more than a Bible lesson. It is very literally visible in their daily lives. In short, church was wonderful: singing, dancing, preaching, sweating, crying, sweating, praying, did I mention sweating?

Next on the agenda? Lunch. We had an extraordinary treat; Phil and Susan took us to a local resort to eat, and word had it that the whole fish was the way to go. Several of us, including me, went for it. I took pictures, and I'm very sad our internet connection prohibits uploading. I can just imagine y'all reading this as you're enjoying breakfast, and BAM! Fish head. Sadly, that awesomeness cannot come to fruition. It. Was. Delicious. We had an opportunity to eat, relax, an enjoy the scenery of the resort.

Susan requested homemade pizza for dinner, and a rumor was spreading that Nicole had the 411 on making some. So we headed into town on the way home to pick up ingredients. The market, which was more like a large convenience store, was an experience; mostly local stuff, and several name brands – even Johnson & Johnson bath products. No mozzarella, so sharp cheddar fit the bill. Let me tell you, Nicole was sweating the thought of making said pizza from scratch. Not Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade, homemade homemade. She worked tirelessly for hours prepping all the toppings: bell peppers, mushrooms and Iganga breakfast sausage, and making and cooking the dough. I swear I saw her twirling that dough like a native Italiano. Mama mia! I don't know what she was so worried about; mega awesome pizza.

We spent time with Phil's kids and the neighborhood kids; lots of games, and tickling, and laughing, and hugging, and pictures. Colton and Ryan even had the kids singing “I want candy!” at the top of their lungs. Awesomeness.

After such a day, I was sure it was done and I sat to start my blog. Then I heard guitars and singing. Colton, Liz, Kayla and I went out front to discover Ryan sitting in a group of kids in the almost dark, singing with them. We joined in the fun. The girls got us to sing and dance with them. They tried to teach me a dance they do. They laughed hysterically. I can't imagine why, it was perfection. There were two little girls that I put my arm around while we sat and sang, and they didn't let go. They clung to me so gently and lovingly. I had my arm around the torso of a smaller girl, probably 7 or so, and she just kept rubbing the hair on my arm with her hands and face. I'm sure she was just fascinated with a hairy muzungu, but it was so sweet. I used to do something similar to my Mom when I was little; I loved to rub and smell the hair on her arm. You guessed it, I cried as stealthily as possible when I made the connection.

When our time was over, I came inside and started the blog. I got about as far as church when Phil called us out to come and see the dancing. All of the girls were gathered on their back porch singing and dancing so energetically. Which might I add just proves my theory that we're all born with an allotted amount of energy and expend the vast majority of it in our youth. Blake was cutting a rug when I first arrived (I ran for my camera as quickly as possible), then they began selecting us to take turns, yours truly included. Such fun, it was. We were all hootin' and a hollerin' and dancing away. Don't worry, blackmail-worthy photographic evidence will make it back to the states.

Since this will likely be my only blog, I have one final thought. As we all sat around the table tonight, cutting yarn for VBS crafts tomorrow, prepping medical charts, uploading pictures, and me blogging away, I realized something; we are all exhausted long before 8:00PM, but we continually stay up until almost midnight. It's not just the activities or preparations, it's the fellowship. It's the time we have together that we can talk and laugh and recharge. God is so good. He put together a motley crew of Jesus-lovers who love each other too. Each and everyone of them have indelibly marked me, and I can only hope I do the same for them. We genuinely like and enjoy one another, and that's quite a statement.

Africa is not what I expected in almost every way; I have so much yet to share, but that will have to wait for another time. Although I'll be coming home after a while, most of my heart will stay in Africa.

Everyone sends much love, hugs, and kisses to everyone back home. Thank you for holding the rope while we got in the basket. We love you!!!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sex Ed. and Soccer

Today we woke up after some much needed rest and had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs, potato's and toast. During breakfast we were listening to Phil explain who all the staff was and how they came to work for him when I looked around and noticed that Colton was missing. Now anyone who know Colton knows that this in not an unusual event :) We then heard music and looked out the front window and saw Colton out there playing his guitar and singing. He had about 20 little girls all around him and some of the neighborhood kids were scaling the wall to catch a glimpse of our resident rock star! My first thought was “this is why God has him here.” He has such a heart for these kids and I will admit he had me crying in my coffee. It was truly beautiful.

After breakfast Tamara gave a health talk to all the girls and all of the ladies in our group had the pleasure of assisting her. We talked to all of the girls about basic health and cleanliness and their changing bodies. We then dismissed the girls who were 12 and under so we could discuss some more sexual education. We had great presentation from Tamara explaining the symptoms and causes of many common STD's, and Susan did a wonderful job translating. It was actually pretty entertaining to watch because any time Susan had to translate something she was a bit uncomfortable with she would make a sound that reminded me of Billy Bob Thorton in Sling Blade....Ummmm Hmmmm ....! We also discussed how to avoid STD's by abstaining from sex until marriage. We handed out cards for the girls to write down any questions they had and were too embarrassed to ask. We were very impressed with the questions that came back. Many of them wanted to know more about HIV and AIDS. They had questions about the menstrual cycle and about infections. After the Q&A there were a couple of girls who came up to Tamara with symptoms of and infection they were concerned about and it ended up being just a common vaginal infection that is easily cured with some medication that we had with us. Without the information, these girls could have gone months before they said anything. Knowledge is power.
At about 2pm we went over to the boy's dorm to have lunch with the children. The team was treated to the same meal that the children eat twice a day. Posho (corn flour and water) and beans. After lunch we had a lot of time to play and socialize with the kids. It is very overwhelming because there are 149 of them. All of the kids want to talk to you and take a picture with you and want to know about their sponsor family. Believe me when I say the kids do know who you are and they treasure your letters. When I met my boy Eliya the first thing he asked me was “How is Lee? And Kaitlyn and Ryenn?”. I met a friend of mine's child who asked about her sponsors daughter's trip to camp which I am sure was mentioned in a letter. You would not believe how much you mean to them. You are their family.
The kids LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to have their pictures taken. Sue and Amanda spent 3 solid hours taking pictures of the kids. The boys are quite the soccer players. Girls here do not play soccer, they play a game with a ball (tightly waded grocery bags) called Net Ball which is kind of like our basketball except they don't dribble. Colton, Ryan and Jamie played soccer with the boys and they were all pretty unsure about Jamie playing. Every time she got the ball they laughed. They called her “Muzungu” (translated as “white person”) until she scored a goal (which was pretty darn awesome to see) she must have gained some respect because from then on they called her “brunette”!
When we came back to the house, Tamara brought back some kids that needed some care. I helped her with some minor medical issues, but we did have one boy with a serious ear infection. When you see Tamara in nurse mode, you get the chance to experience a truly God given calling. She is pretty amazing. It has been so enlightening to see each of the team members gifts emerge. I could not have asked for a more amazing group of people to accompany me on this adventure.
In His Service,

Arrival in Iganga

When I arrived at the airport a few days ago, my wolf pack was just one lone wolf. It quickly grew to twelve. This is the story of how it grew even further.

What a day! We travelled from Entebbe to Iganga. The distance would probably take only a couple of hours on I-35, but this journey took about six hours. We stopped in Kampala at the Walmart of Uganda, called Game, and a supermarket. We bought snacks and toured the stores for a rather long time while Phil went to secure our hotel reservations for the trip back into town. We continue… Kampala is crazy. Motorcycles, vans, and trucks litter the underdeveloped but massive city and drivers vie for position. We also stopped at Phil’s mechanic’s shop and visited for a while. It was here that I began to learn the hand shaking customs of Uganda. The men softly hold your hand for an extended amount of time. Even knowing this coming in, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat awkward the first time. The men will even walk hand in hand and arm in arm. Colton wouldn’t go for it.

We got back on the road and stared out the windows. The land is beautiful with much more vegetation than I expected. The people are friendly and the children laugh and wave at a van full of muzungus (white people). The driving is hilariously fun. At one point Phil, in the truck ahead, went to pass a big truck and trailer. We follow. Suddenly a Toyota Corona (no typo) passes us as well. Here we are, three wide on a two lane road, and I look up to see the grill of a large Mercedes truck bearing down on us. We avoided catastrophe and I could not stop laughing!

We stopped in a forest at a roadside market. The vehicles were surrounded with men and women holding out chicken on a stick and roasted bananas. We begin with the chicken, which a few of us were admittedly a little alarmed at the appearance. It as insanely delicious! We then begin to see the rest of the “on a stick” specials: livers and gizzards, beef and I think a lizard. The roasted bananas that we were each looking forward to actually terrible and I ended up with Kayla’s half chewed first bite on my lap as she frantically dug for money to buy some beef on a stick to wash out the flavor of the dried out corpse of a banana. We continued down the road.

Entering Iganga we drove through a stretch of bars and restaurants in little mud-brick shacks. The televisions inside were so loud that we could hear the vuvuzelas from the street. We arrive at Phil’s home to children yelling “Phillipo!” We emerge from the van to what seems like thousands of smiling and laughing faces. Children run, spin, and dance to us to hug and to say thank you before we have done anything. The tears were impossible to hold back. My final initial greeting was a darling little boy staring up at me with somewhat timid eyes but also full of curiosity. I crouch and hold his chubby little body close.

After unloading, we come out to play. We spend an hour arm wrestiling, roaring, dancing, singing, hugging and holding hands. At one point I think I had fifteen little hands in each of mine. My wolf pack had grown. We howled like a pack of twelve year old Ugandans and a bunch of happy muzungus. Eventually, it was time to say farewell for the night Thank yous are amazing and tears come again. Dinner and laughter say goodnight.

Father, thank you for more safe travelling, for good meals, and great company. Thank you for opening our eyes and breaking our hearts only slowly- any faster and we may be blinded.Please give us hearts for all we meet. Please give us hands to do your work. Please give us feet to walk the path. Please give us eyes that see like yours. Please give us ears that hear the cries. Father, please continue to protect us. Please continue to break our hearts. Please continue to hold our family’s hearts in yours. In Jesus name.

Friday, June 25, 2010

They have arrived

The team has arrived in Iganga at Phils house. Many have gotten to meet their child (the child they sponsor), which was very very sweet! When Brian met John (our boy), the first thing he said was, 'How is Anna Faith'? It is very moving to think how connected they really are to our families.

Everyone on the team is 'excited and exhausted', but feeling well!

Keep praying for em...

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Thursday, June 24, 2010

They made it!

Jack just talked to Phil & the team is there! They are all off the plane, all the luggage is on the truck & they are on way to hotel! Now for some rest....

-Jen (sent from my blackberry)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trip to Detroit

Ok ignore the first blog I meant to push save and instead hit send. Let me try again. Please post this one.

First, we want to thank everyone who came to the airport this morning. What a wonderful blessing to have each of you there and to have Scott pray over the group. We really appreciate you being there. Personally I should have known something special was going to happen when I got on 281 this morning and there was absolutely no traffic and every light was green!

Our flight to Detroit was interesting. We got rerouted a little due to weather so we waited for more gas. Meanwhile the A/C dripped on us, their was only one bathroom and the aisle was tiny. God must be preparing us and we all know he has a sense of humor!

We'll update you again.
Sent on the Now Network� from my Sprint® BlackBerry

Trip to Detroit

We want to thank everyone who came to the airport to see us off this morning. We really appreciate you being there for us and for Scott praying over us. We truly do believe God is leading us on this trip and we are taking a part of each of you with us.

Now for our flight. The bags all got through with no problem. The gentleman weighing them
Sent on the Now Network� from my Sprint® BlackBerry

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two More Days!

For the last 6 months we have been meeting and preparing. And now, in less than 48 hours, our team of 12 will be boarding a plane and will eventually make it to Iganga, Uganda. Meeting together for the final time before we leave, the church leaders came and prayed over us. We packed 24 bins with medicine, clothes, food, VBS supplies, medical supplies and anything and everything we could think of to help care for our kids in Uganda. For many of us the reality is beginning to sink in and we feel the weight of what we are about to encounter. The excitement and feelings of anticipation are at times overwhelming. We know, however, that God  put together an amazing team and He will use us in ways we never imagined possible. Please keep us in your prayers. To sign-up to be a part of our prayer vigil please click here.