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.