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.