Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taste and See

Last week, I turned 24. I cringe even as a type those words. One more year and I will have lived a quarter century. It isn’t only the number that makes me realize I am getting older, but things are changing that makes me know the truth. For example, I’m in bed as I type this… at 9:30pm. After I go the gym, I really hurt. I often pass up invitations to do things. I desire to settle down. Now, I get up hours BEFORE I have to go to church. I talk about how some of the younger generation just doesn’t get it. I have actually thought music is too loud. My father and I used to see each other every morning… before, as I was just going to bed and he was getting up, but now we share a pot of coffee together and talk about business, the economy, and how great it is to be an Auburn Tiger. (I have always talked about that, but wow they sure do look good.) My “Save the Date” magnets are beginning to consume my fridge. I read... All the time… And I like it. Sometimes I even laugh aloud as I read. Last week, while frustrated I think I used the term “dag gommit!” I fall asleep during great movies. My Christmas list has gone from speakers to sport coats. The only thing that has kept constant is probably my childish sense of humor and my maturity. That doesn’t seem all that good.
Really I only joke about getting old. Twenty-four really isn’t old, but it has begun. The hands of time that count my years seem to be spinning faster than I ever remember them turning. I do know that if God has plans of keeping me on this earth, then He has many more awesome years planned just waiting for me to discover.
I look back over this past year and still can’t believe what He has done. My life has flipped in a way I never expected it to. I have been so blessed to do the work he has allowed me to do. I remember walking hand in hand with Fatuma (3 year old Ugandan girl) down the a Ugandan dirt road to get juice and bread and thinking to myself, “I get to do the best work in the world. I am blessed beyond blessed.” This time last year… if you told me all that has taken place, would have taken place this year, I would have called you crazy. Absolutely out of your mind. That is another reason that makes me realize one important truth; Sometimes I get so frustrated that God won’t reveal to me “His Will” for my future. I know I have prayed before, “God if you would just tell me then I will! But speak up!” I have realized that sometimes he waits… and waits… and waits until we are ready to hear it. We think we are, but often we are not ready to hear His voice or know His Will. This time last year if God would have laid out my list of things he was going to do in the twenty-third year of my life I would have laughed and said, ”Ok… good one…. Now seriously Lord… should I get the house in Ross Bridge or Meadowbrook?” Jesus elbows God and they exchanged smirking glances with each other as they watch me try to figure out my life. He has got this ALL FIGURED OUT! Why can’t I realize that? Why is it so hard for me to TRUST that?

All that really makes this scripture come alive and helps me understand that he wants to do SO MUCH in our lives.
Habakkuk 1:5
 “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed.
   For I am going to do something in your days
   that you would not believe,  even if you were told.”

Over the past year, I have had ups and downs. There have been trials more difficult than I have ever faced and mountaintops experiences I didn’t realize were possible. This is what comes to my mind when I think of the process throughout the past year. God is so good and I am in such awe of his greatness right now. He has brought my life and others through so much and revealed his Grace more and more.

I have tasted of the Lord
I have walked away
I have trusted the world
And I know he is still faithful

I have tasted of the Lord
I have felt my heart convicted
I have tried to go my own way
And I know he has called my name.

I have tasted of the Lord
I have turned to Him in brokenness
I have been changed by his grace
And I know he is good

I have tasted of the Lord
I have surrendered my life
I have walked in his footsteps
And I know He is my guiding Sheppard

I have tasted of the Lord
I have trusted in His voice
I have stepped on the water
And I know he said Go!

I have tasted of the Lord
I have walked on unfamiliar ground
I have leaned on his understanding
And I know his ways are higher than mine

I have tasted of the Lord
I have stepped across the globe
I have held his children’s hands
And I know that he was with me.

I have tasted of the Lord
I have watched lives transform
I have observed countless miracles
And I know He is Healer

I have tasted of the Lord
I have witnessed evil and death
I have felt his wings of protection
And I know He is my refuge

I have tasted of the Lord
I have fallen
I have struggled
But I know His blood covers me

I have tasted of the Lord
I have given my trust
I have breathed new life
And I know He is my All in All

I have tasted of the Lord
I have experienced a love so deep
I have been given grace so sweet
I have for the first time found FULL life in Him.

Psalm 34:8
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

I am truly amazed by God. Yahweh. I sometimes don’t even know how to say it, but I have become more and more aware of God in everything. Things I never used to see as God. The small things like the whisper of his voice that is inaudible, but like an impression on my heart that I know didn’t come from me. The big things like creation, the human eye and how it works, my dog Tommy dreaming and woofing quietly in his sleep at the foot of my bed, or for a split second grasping the beauty of the ripples across Smith Lake mirroring the orange and blue of God's brush-stroked sunset. Just like when I think of eternity, my human finite mind can only grasp God for seconds at a time. I can only imagine what it will be like seeing Jesus face to face. I strive for a “well done, good and faithful servant” followed by a powerfully swift high-five. Not sure if God gives high-fives, maybe he offers a closed fist for a solid “pound.” Whatever the greeting is, I bet it all will be greater than I could ever ask or imagine.

The next post that I am about to put up in a few days is going to be pictures of the restaurant we were at during the bombing. While in Uganda, I returned to take pictures and face the physical fear of the location. I did and it was quiet a chilling experience to say the least. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Over the Pond

Currently, I am writing while flying over the giant pond known as the Atlantic Ocean. Hope we don’t need to emergency land because there is no part of me that wants to see if this cushion I am sitting on will actually float. I have my doubts. I love how the safety video Delta plays at the beginning of the flight makes the what to do in case we crash information so pleasant, and almost enjoyable. The woman smiles as she says in a smooth calm voice, “In case of emergency landing in the ocean, there are eights rafts that will inflate upon opening each door. Women please remove your high-heeled shoes so you don’t bust the raft and be the reason any remaining survivor drowns. Please do not worry, when the light on your flotation vest touches the water it will illuminate so rescuers may locate you as you float over waves in the middle of nowhere. If the crash into the ocean does not instantly take your life, please remove all shiny or sparkling jewelry so you are not devoured by a shark.” Ok… maybe that is not a direct quote, but they may as well just tell us the truth. If this plane goes down, I’d rather God just take me Home.

Here are a few moments of our trip that I will remember forever.

I have written before about Rays of Hope, which is Joel’s school in Kabalagala. I have always enjoyed the time there but this week topped every experience in the past. Every time we go, all the children dance and sing and put on programs for us. Africa is the most hospitable place in the world and here at Rays of Hope they truly embrace that custom. Sometimes it is so much, that we almost feel like they are the ones serving when we came with intentions to serve. They give us breakfast, water, and occasionally flowers. Our group was trying to think of ways we could show them God’s love and serve them without them actually serving us. So this week, we washed their feet just as Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. We washed 300 pairs of African feet. After getting over what we were actually doing, it was amazing. I have never been more humbled. 

There is a girl named Joan in Rays of Hope school that without saying a word has captured all of our hearts. Beyond just being an orphan living in one of the worst slums in all of Uganda, Joan is deaf and mute. You can tell by her actions she is extremely intelligent, but when she attempts to speak it comes out just noise. The thing about Joan that humbles me and brings me more hope, is that she is the most joy filled child I have ever met. I have never seen her without a beaming smile. When she sees us, especially Catherine, she comes running towards us jumping in our arms. Joan loves to be loved. We went to the mud-walled, thatched-roof home that she lives in with her grandmother. We took food, detergent, and soap and prayed with them. It was powerful. God was overwhelmingly present. (This is Joan in purple in the picture below.)

It is not getting easier to leave Africa. The piece of me that can’t wait to get in a hot shower is ready, but the rest of me is still in that home with those children. The few weeks I had there were incredible. There were again ups and downs, and times of great joy and overwhelming stress, but overall everything was amazing. The kids… oh the kids… God has truly blessed these children and this home. They are healthy, growing, smiling, laughing, and a phrase I feel like fits them well… they are finally just kids again. We looked back on some old photos earlier this week of when they were still at the previous home. It was hard seeing those images of the past. Beyond their visible illnesses, their malnourished stomachs, or their bones nearly protruding through their skin, the feature in these photographs that is more striking and heartbreaking than all, is their eyes. Emptiness and hopelessness are words that I feel like barely scratch the surface of what their eyes were saying. None of them spoke a language I understood, but their eyes were a lamp into their souls clearly communicating pure brokenness. Yesterday when I gave them all hugs goodbye, even thought it hurt to say that again, their eyes all tell a different story. They tell a story of hope and the power of God. Their eyes all show the glory of Christ and how he intercedes for us and restores us to complete healing. These 17 children's eyes are all now a lamp that shines the glory of God. 

I am still overwhelmed looking back and realizing what God has done. All glory and praise to Him. These kids have really helped me change how I see people. I think God is finally showing me how He sees us. It is still a challenge but every now and then I will get a glimpse of seeing someone I don’t even know and realizing how much God cares for that person. The love is overwhelming. The grace is overwhelming. Even after all we have been through and done, out of His love for us, He sent His son to give us everlasting, never-exhausting grace. After traveling by myself through three different airports in three different continents in the past 24 hours, I have watched a number of people. Not watching people in a creepy way, but honestly, I could sit and just watch the interesting diversity of people walking through an airport all day. Sometimes I laugh inside and other times I can see their pain without even knowing them. Sometimes I try to imagine their stories and where they have come from and been through. Sometimes I try to think of how their accent would sound. I catch myself unknowingly practicing it out loud as the person next to me shoots a strange look my direction. There are so many different cultures across this world and before traveling half way across the globe, I don’t think I fully realized that. I have always known of the existence of other cultures, but never experienced it, is a better way of saying that. In Amsterdam, I really enjoyed sitting near the end of one of those moving walkways. Those are the epitome of lazy, but I must admit I never pass one up. Did you know we are the only country in the world that stands, and doesn’t walk, on a moving walkway or escalator? Don’t try to do that in another country because they will run you over if you are standing. The best thing about sitting near the end of this moving walkway is watching people’s expressions as they adjust from the speed of walkway to the motionless floor. As I am sitting here finding humor in the people that fall forward, God is showing me something so much bigger. Today, for a second at a time, I can see into the person. I have never really looked at people from God’s perspective before. I always see them from my perspective and how I feel about what they say, wear, or do. I judge quickly. When I can shift my mind to God’s perspective of a person, for a split second, I can see their heart. I can see how much He loves them. That may sound strange, but if I or we could see people from God’s perspective every day, at all times, my life and this world would be drastically different. I pray that when I get home, my perspective on others is no longer my quickest judgment or formed thought of something they have done in the past, but I see them with the love of Christ in me. I pray that for you too. This world would profoundly change.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Short Bond With Sunday's Lunch

Our two rooster friends are next to me this morning watching the African sunrise. They are enjoying each other’s company, and mine as well I believe, and just now realizing it is their time to fulfill their morning duty of waking the nation. They may not realize their inevitable fate after entering the compound gate, because if they did they may not be as motivated this morning. The sun is peaking over the horizon and painting brush strokes of vibrant color across the sky as the roosters make failed attempts to harmonize. The volume of their crows would normally interrupt my thought while I try to read and write, but my delicious cup of African coffee is keeping me focused. Honestly some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. Some people have obsessions with traveling across the globe to drink fine wine, smoke expensive cigars, try exotic food and taste the local flavor of a foreign commodity. Mine is coffee.  Something about coffee just calms me. The flavor on my lips signifies a beginning of a new day, a fresh start. I am not sure if Heaven imports their coffee from Uganda, but I would not be surprised if they did.  I look forward to coffee in heaven. I bet the creamer isn’t powdered.

I finally made it back to Uganda. Our plane landed safely in the night and we loaded into a van headed towards the orphanage. When we made it in the gate, I was reunited with my Ugandan family. We each exchanged a long embraced of emotion as if I was soldier returning to his family from brutal war. That’s all besides the fact that I was returning from luxury in the United States, a soldiers feelings I am sure are much more magnified, and my children look nothing like me, but it would have seemed as if it were true.

Two days ago, Lisa and I drove to Rays of Hope, which is a school run by our friend Joel in Kabalagala. This area of Uganda is one of the worst in the country. Prostitution is rampant and many families have addictions to alcohol and drugs. They don’t care for their children because any money that flows into their pockets flows right back to the next person offering a cheap high. The name of the school is very literal. Rays of Hope is a light amongst darkness that offers hope to this broken area. Slums are all around and after school ends most of the children return to homes built of plywood, mud, and scrap metal the size of some of our closets in the U.S. These homes often provide shelter for more than our average family sizes occasionally in the double digits.
When we walked into the school we were overwhelmed with a welcome. It is custom here to go all out in making guests feel at home. We were given flowers and the children sang songs as we walked into the school gate. The Bonds have helped feed the children at Joel’s school for a long time now and their appreciation was very clear. Joel greeted us and introduced whom he calls “Momma Lisa” to the school. They clapped and danced native dances that are historic in their culture. It was very different… but beautiful. A lot like what you see on T.V.

Yesterday Lisa and I went all over town and accomplished a list of tasks. Things here don’t operate like they do at home though. Everything is slow and complicated. Just attempting to open a P.O. Box yesterday you would think I was applying to fly a fighter jet in the air force because of the complex process. On the way to town, we ran out of gas right in the middle of Uganda’s busiest road. Awesome. Really great coasting to a stop with cars and boda bodas honking and passing at high speeds as our driver ran to get a gas tank. We made it out and carried on our day later to learn how to make paper bead necklaces with Mato and one of his friends.

Yesterday we got a chance to drive to Jinja. It is about two hours away traveling over rocky roads, but well worth the grueling drive. I saw Lisa’s eyes grow and heart stop a few times caused by the close-call collisions our car circumvented. Jinja is one of my favorite places on this earth. It portrays the true beauty of God. We were able to see the Nile River, Bujagali Falls, and the bungee jump over the river we conquered just a few months ago. At the falls, mass amounts of water crashes over gigantic boulders creating a breathtaking sight. What a wonderful Maker. Unique African culture is strung through out this town. It has a small downtown containing many shops with awnings covering their front porches. Wild flowers in the medians, mural paintings across the walls, and locals strolling to and from the restaurant on the corner all make this town special. Jinja actually reminds me a little of Auburn. Maybe that is why I like it so much.

Don’t tell my parents this… but I drove by the restaurant we were at during the bombing. I could briefly see inside and it looked like they had renovated and recently done some painting. Chills shot up my arms infiltrating every cell in my body as a sickening feeling crept into my stomach. I didn’t go inside. My curiosity said go, but my mental health said don’t. I haven’t fully decided against it. Everything in the area was back to normal. People eating, walking around, and carrying about their day. The news here and back in the United States has faded and picked up the latest breaking tragedies to tell the nations about. The event was merely a piece of the past. Sometimes it is a struggle because even though it is the past in everyone’s mind and the media no longer has interest, I know that for the seven of us that walked out through pools of blood, the story will replay in our mind for the rest of our lives just as fresh as the wet paint on the restaurant wall.

I am again reminded of the greatness of God and his hand directing our every step. Literally, he directs every step we take. If not for his grace and guidance, we may have unknowingly stepped quicker, drove faster, ate dinner sooner, or arrived earlier and then I would not be writing this very paragraph today. It still amazes me. How great is our God?

My friends next to me are still competing in a crowing competition to see who can wake Kampala first.  I have not named them because of the fact I try not to get attached knowing they will be Sunday’s lunch. Maybe it is better if the roosters know they are going to a good cause and feeding orphans. I’ll tell them. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Travels Abroad

It didn’t even take us to leave the state of Georgia before the adventure began. My travel companion, Lisa Bond and I walked up to the curbside check-in at the Atlanta International Airport. We proceeded with preexisting apprehension hoping our bags we were lugging across the concrete were within the airline’s requirements. Approaching the desk, I searched for the friendliest looking attendant, and I happened to lay eyes on a large African-American woman that had a smile the size of Texas. She grinned at me and said, “Checking your bags here sweetie?” I nodded while inside being glad she said sweetie and knowing that even then there is a chance we may not get beyond this point. Mrs. Bond was checking two bags, and I had one to check. However, our main obstacle was a huge box containing the desktop computer donated to the Sozo Uganda orphanage that I was claiming as one of my bags. An official serious looking man in uniform walked out, and as he measured the box’s dimensions he began saying, “nope, this one is too big...” I knew it. I already started thinking of plan B. There was no plan B. I prayed. As he worked on the box, the woman began weighing our bags. One, overweight, two, overweight, three, overweight. Even after weighing them ourselves at home, every bag we carried was overweight. Zero for four was not a good way to start the trip. The man put on his pilot style hat signifying his authority and started saying it would cost us at least $300 more just for the extra weight, and they didn’t know what to do with the oversize box they can’t check. We smiled and reaching for a piece of hope through empathy said, “This is all going to an orphanage in Uganda…” The pleasant woman smiled back requesting some sort of the same empathy and said, “you take care of your friendly workers, and we’ll take care of you.” Not knowing what that really meant, Mrs. Bond and I exchanged glances and immediately agreed while beginning to pull out tip money from our pockets. We each knew we had an understanding. They talked to each other acting as if they were hiding what they were doing from the other officials working the check-in counters inside. I could imagine there are some differences and tension between the inside and outside workers. “We can’t let them see,” she said, “or you be paying for this thing.” We slipped our new best friend the generous tip as our bags were taken off on a conveyer. She walked us up to the indoor check-in counter to get our boarding passes and last claim ticket. As we talked to the KLM official inside, a box on the conveyer belt behind him slyly crept by unnoticed that read “Fragile – Sozo Children International” Something about beating the system always makes the day more entertaining and left us feeling more accomplished than if they would have just checked it from the beginning. I shot up a quick prayer, “thanks God.”

We boarded the Delta 747 headed to Amsterdam and began to find our seats. I am not sure if people try to carry on every possession they own for fun or just to prove to the airline they can, but today everyone on our flight was trying to squeeze all they had in the overhead bins. They seemed to think the harder you push the better it will fit, as if the back of the bin would break through the side of the plane and allow more space. After breaking anything in the bags that would crush under pressure, people squeezed shut the doors on claustrophobic bags that were trying to burst out gasping for air. We still had to check our carry-on items because of course there was not room for our bags by the time we got to our seats. I sat down and finally began to rest and think about how excited I was to be on a flight headed to reunite with the family I left in Uganda. In only hours I would be there, and until then I thought I would rest without worries. I slowly reclined my chair not to disturb the passenger behind me just when that guy in front of me threw his seat back jolting the plane. He must have been in emergency nap mode, which I can sometimes relate. The flight attendant was dressed in navy blue with a red scarf around her neck and she looked similar to a sailor. She began walking down the aisle offering free newspapers. Quick side note of how I feel about things given away on airplanes: After paying for this flight… anything that they are giving away, I am taking. They say free, but we all know it isn’t free. TINSTASFL. They just want us to feel like we are getting something. I could have bought season tickets to this incredible Auburn season (War Eagle!) for the price I paid for this ticket across the globe. So yes, I will take this item you offer as "free." Anyways, something in me feels like the more I consume or use on the plane the less it actually costs. Or at least I am getting my monies worth, right? Newspaper, drinks, boxed food that taste like plastic, peanuts, wings that pin to my shirt?… Yes. Sure. Don’t mind if I do. Absolutely. And yes again. I will gladly accept it all. I might even use an extra few tissues drying off my hands in the bathroom. After kindly accepting the “free” Financial Times she handed me, I quickly realized Delta does not always live up to their standard of passenger’s comfort being their first priority. I cannot make this up… The front page headline on the newspaper she handed me read… “Bomb Fears Shift to Passenger Aircraft.” Not really the ideal story a terrorist bomb survivor wants to read on the passenger aircraft he just boarded.

I will admit unexpected adventures add excitement to missions, but I as I write aboard this plane headed to Uganda with threatening news articles in my face, I will also admit I am looking forward to the rubber of the tires returning to the asphalt on the runway.  I write this joking about the trials of traveling, but honestly, I am so thankful to be on this plane, even with the conditions. We made it on, luggage and all, and I can’t wait to see seventeen African children smiling, laughing, and playing. God is good. He is always faithful. We are exhausted.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

If Tomorrow Comes

Tomorrow I return to Uganda. I am finally getting to go back to the kids, the culture, and the comforts of Africa. While being there, I never thought I would associate comfort with Africa. That Uganda actually has comforts sounds almost contradictory. America is the land of comfort. But Uganda has many comforts in different ways, and everything in my soul longs to reunite with them. There are 17 of them laughing, playing, and eating right now. The welcoming culture and laid-back schedule is a luxury I saw as a burden for some time. Honestly, my time while I was there was taken for granted and wasted away on the Internet or missing food, friends, and familiarity. The familiarity that I missed is now again familiar, but it has been turned upside down. Something in me now wishes the familiar were not so recognizable. The Internet and travelologist call this phenomenon “reverse culture shock.” It means after being in a foreign country for some time, the unusual effect people go through by re-entering the United States. I have self diagnosed myself with a pretty severe case. I get back to the world of excess and I look around almost in disgust of how I live. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for everything I have, and this sea of stuff we live in is not always bad, but an unavoidable feeling of guilt is overwhelming after seeing the rest of the world that has nothing.

Since being home, my schedule has become priority. My iCal is overworked and begging me to slow down. Everything I do I subconsciously obsess over efficiency and I don’t even know why. Honestly, it is draining me emotionally and spiritually. It is like I am in this time management mode and all I can think about is how I can do something better or faster. I plan breakfasts, lunches, dinners, coffees, ice creams and I even catch myself judging routes home and figuring how I can shave off the most time. For example, when I am on highway 280 between noon and one o’clock, I merge into the left lane when I see Chick-fil-a in the distance because I know that traffic in the right lane will most likely slow down from all the merging people craving waffle fries and a chicken sandwich. I cram as much as I humanly can into a day. It reminds me of the same feeling I had working in restaurants on a busy weekend night. It brings me back to my days at Chili’s. Oh, how I praise God those days are over! I learned a lot working in restaurants and I have said before I think everyone should have to do it for one year of their life just for the experience. You learn about people and also how important it is to be friendly to a server that is overworked in a restaurant is understaffed. Working in restaurants forces you to master time management. Everything is a process that can be constructed in a certain way to be done the fastest. Fill up drinks, and then run salad to table 2 after putting desert for table 1 in microwave. As the timer rings entrees are taken to table 3 while dropping off napkins and Paradise Pie at table 1. All of it timed perfectly as I clear checks for table 4 and bring in another well made tip from table 5.  It is a sickness. I have taken it and applied it to my life back here in the States trying to do as much as I possibly can. It is a disease, that in my case, only Africa can cure. I have to slow down. God is telling me to “be still.” In Africa, they commonly uses the phrase “Hakuna Matata” to express how their style of life means no worries, and I can’t wait to dive back in.

On July 11th our life was radically impacted by the Kampala bombings during the World Cup. 76 people lost their lives that night, some only feet from us, as all of our team walked out untouched. It was a clear miracle by God’s hand of protection. Psalm 91 has never seemed so literal and real.

“…He is my refuge and fortress…”
“…He will cover you with his feathers…”
“… under his wings you will find refuge…”
“…his faithfulness will be your shield…”
“… You will not fear the terror of night…”
“… a thousand may fall at your side… but it will not come near you…”
“…you will only observe with your eyes…”
“…no harm will befall you…”
“… he will command his angels to guard you in all your ways…”
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

A part of the story I don’t often tell is what happened that morning before the bombing took place. It was Sunday so we loaded up seventeen kids and all six of us in a fourteen-passenger van and headed to church. It was just another Sunday. Nothing unusual. That morning the pastor said something that stuck out to me in his sermon. He challenged all of us that morning with the question, “If Jesus were coming back tonight, what would you do different today?”
I was impacted by that question and after the service I went to our balcony that overlooked the lush jungles of Kampala and began to write. I wrote everything I could think of that I would change. Every detail of how I would and should live differently because of the fact that I am not promised tomorrow. Of course if I would have known how close I was actually going to come to meeting Jesus that night, I probably would have been more doing that writing, but still, I listed it all. I poured out my heart. Even though I get pretty honest and personal on here, I don’t know if it is time yet for me to post those things I wrote, but I pray everyday my life now reflects it and God receives all the glory. Knowing that tomorrow may never come and today could be your last, how would you live it differently? One day that statement will be true for all of us. One day we will all breathe our last breath. I don’t say that to spur people to begin making their bucket lists that include line items such as buy a Harley, see the Pyramids, or sky dive, but to really question how your heart and decisions would change if you were to stand before your Creator today… 

If tomorrow comes for me, I finally get to return to the country and people I have grown to love. They say that once you get the dirt of Africa on your feet, you can never again fully get it off. I am not sure who “they” are that say that, or if “they” could mean that literally because of the skin staining Ugandan clay, but I do know there is a piece of my heart that is still in Africa and I am looking forward to finding it again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blessed beyond blessed

This picture on the right was taken the Sunday morning of the bombing, July 11th. We were taking the kids to church and wanted to get more pictures with their church clothes on. We didn't realize it would be the last in our Africa albums. It has been over a month since returning home, and I have worked on and off on a new blog post. I began writing this right when I got back, and have added on and off as the days have passed. That may explain why some of these are jumbled thoughts. However, forgive me for allowing it to be this long, but being back in the United States, I was not sure if I should continue writing. But I did…

The night of the bombing our church leaders and missions sending agency worked quickly to get us out of Uganda. Only 48 hours later we were in transit to the airport to board a flight home. I never would have thought we would be going home. It didn’t seem to fit. It is all surreal, and to this day it is still surreal. Did that really happen? I thought to myself, “We still have four months left. Why is this happening? And why is it happening so fast?” My mind couldn’t even catch up to process what really just occurred in our lives. We were so disoriented in the moment our decision-making was at an all time low. Honestly, the time in Uganda I took very for granted thinking I had so much more. Sounds similar to life. I never appreciate the breath God has given me until I thought it could be my last. Vividly I remember being huddled in the corner of the debris filled, blood covered room we found refuge in, and thought, “This could be it. This could be the last breath I breathe.” Why do we always under appreciate the things we have, including life itself, until someone or something threatens its existence. The bombing story has been told over and over at many different places to many different people. It still doesn’t seem fully real. It is nothing that I would have chosen to happen to anyone, but I have seen good, and God be glorified through this already.

Before leaving for Africa, a specific question had been wading through the murky depths of my thoughts. I could not seem to push it aside. While I was there and even now, the same question still seems to surface in my mind on occasion. Instead of a specific answer or solution, usually more questions form from this question. This is the type of question you can talk about for hours on a back porch on a cool fall night. It can be debated and discussed. People can add opinion or theology to try to prove a point, but there is no formula that leads to a definite answer. This side of heaven, it is truly an unsolvable puzzle. It is a question that began to stir my thoughts when someone very close to me asked me back at home before I left. To add context before you read it, it was asked in America amongst Americans in a much simpler form. The jist of the question is this: Why has God blessed us so much, and allowed others to be born and live in the pits of poverty?

(Feel free to think about that one for a while, but at least finish reading this at some point.)

The blessings in my life have been even more clearly revealed to me after going and seeing what the pit of poverty really looks like. The phrase abundantly blessed now seems like a drastic understatement. With this and even outside of this, the past weeks have been full of adjusting. Adjusting to many things other than my reverse culture shock. For example, I am convinced my jetlag is equipped with boxing gloves attempting to punch me into a coma every afternoon. If I could only resist the post-lunch afternoon nap I could break it, but my long overdue quality time with the sofa usually justifies my surrender. Comfort wins. Jetlag hangs around a little longer, ready for the next fight.
My eyes are still somewhat thrown off by the things around me.  We have been so used to hand made, home made, or trade crafted things (including buildings), the straight lines created by machines make my mind feel lost. I said to Jay, “What are all these straight lines, and why does it not make sense.” He gave me a look that made me feel more lost. “I guess it is the lack of a hand made edge.”

When FINALLY getting back to Birmingham my family and best friends welcomed me home. They even brought Chick-fil-a to the airport, which is another long overdue comfort that they knew I craved. The moment we loaded my luggage and piled into my Jeep, I realized once again how blessed I am. I sat down in a vehicle that was, for the lack of a better word, awesome. I have driven it for a year but it seemed brand new.   Unnecessary bells and whistles are strung throughout this machine that gets me from place to place. I have never realized how nice it was. I have not sat in a vehicle newer than probably a ’93 in months. I had not driven at all in months, so my driving terrified my sister. It felt new again. I told her, “It is just like riding a bike, I can pick it back up without a problem.” Then suddenly I hit an old man on the crosswalk…. I made that part up. We got home safe without injuring anyone. I really did pick up driving just like I had never left. I think I may have even sent a text on the way home.

We made our way back to the Birmingham suburbia neighborhood that I have grown up in all my life. I had made each turn thousands of times, but this time it was different. I noticed things I have never noticed. Insignificant things. Bushes were pruned, flowers were in rows, and things were in order. Cars were clean. There were clear painted lanes on the road and people actually stayed in them for the most part. Traffic lights!? Restaurants had reproduced everywhere. Jim N’ Nicks! Oh, how I have missed you! Soon after we passed the guardhouse at the entrance of my neighborhood, I realized that mansions now surrounded me. Huge houses sat all around me, looking down on me from the clouds as I passed by. I had to ask myself, I have driven this street before so many times, why does it seem so different? Why does it feel… off?

God has spoken in such a powerful way recently. As I am reading David Platt’s new book, I am remembering truths that I quickly forgot after I got over there. I am also beginning to grasp some sort of an answer to the question I can’t shake off my mind.
I am sure we all agree it is a fact that we are blessed. If you can read this blog you are blessed, regardless of the type of computer, it is a computer. Even our definition of poor in the United States is extremely blessed comparative to the world. Especially the world we were immersed in. But why? Why me?

Also, I am not one that thinks blessings and good things are bad. Nice things aren’t bad, but I believe it is our responsibility on how we use the blessings we have been given. If were not careful, they can consume us. (Ironic that consuming can consume the ultimate consumer.) I still don’t have a complete answer to why specifically me, or we, are richly blessed, but I am beginning to grasp a piece of what we are called to do. All of us have a responsibility. Maybe calling is a better word.

My piece of an answer is actually very simple. I am blessed to bless. That’s it. I have been so blessed to bless the lives of others and glorify God in everything I do. My responsibility is to use the copious resources I have to pour into others and share the love of Christ.  If it is not material blessings, it is relational. If not those, intelligence or health are forms of blessings. The definition of blessing can go on and on, but regardless they can all be used to bless someone else. Our purpose on this earth is to share Christ with all nations and make disciples. I think that is made pretty clear in Scripture. There is much more to this, but I know that I grew up where I did, in the family I did, around the people I did, with the resources, the education, the trials, and the blessings that I have, to be used for God’s glory, and to make Jesus’ name known amongst the nations! I have been given what I have been given, to give it. 

If others are not as blessed it gives me an opportunity to share the love of Christ with them. How do you love and bless someone that is already blessed? How do you offer support to someone without a void to fill? How do you show the love of Christ to someone that doesn’t believe they need a savior? How do you show agape love, or selfless love without sacrificing and blessing others with the blessings we have been blessed with? If that doesn’t make sense, read it again, or read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, because I think Jesus’ teachings had a lot to do with that. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? He was sinless. He was not deserving of the cross he carried. Christ did not do anything to merit the torture that came. He did not deserve the nails driven into his hands. And most of all, Christ did not deserve his Father to pour out the wrath upon him for our sins. We did. But he did it willingly. That is selfless love. That is agape love.

God has blessed us so much so that we may illustrate the same sacrificial love that has been given to us to the ones that are living in the midst of poverty. The interesting thing about that is; the ones in Africa who are poor in possessions, usually are rich in relationships and have an extremely strong faith. This question brings another important question, “Who is actually more blessed?” Us or them?

Today it is official. I booked my flight. November 1st I am returning to Uganda.  

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 11th - Kampala Bombing

Only by the grace of God I am writing this post.

Life just changed in an instant. Our perspectives have flipped. Images we wish we never saw are now permanently written on the pages of our minds. July 11th is now a day none of us will ever forget. Thankfully we have no physical scars to show, but emotionally we are still processing what actually happened. Regardless of our confusion and questions, all honor, glory, and praise to God.

The night of July 11th, hype spreads the conversations of those beginning to prepare for one of the biggest soccer matches this decade, The 2010 World Cup. Even though most of us have never been into soccer, it is hard not to get wrapped into the excitement that goes into these games. For days we talked about it. We planned to go to our favorite place to watch the sporting event, Ethiopian Village. It is a nice restaurant in the area of Kabalagala, just outside of the capital city, Kampala. We have watched all the United States matches there because of their outdoor 25-foot projector screen that broadcasts all the games live under the stars of Africa. We would sit, enjoy a cold Mountain Dew, and give high fives when our team scored goals. Regular. Ordinary. Just a normal night.

Earlier in the day I told Catherine I didn’t want to be late. “This game is huge, and I know it is going to be packed. Let’s get there early to make sure we get a good spot in view of the monster screen.” We all agreed. I even argued we should eat there to guarantee us a spot, but the girls vetoed it because of their hatred of Ethiopian food. “Fine” I said, “We’ll eat Italian at CafĂ© Roma, then get to the game as quickly as possible.” Why did we decide that? We got caught in traffic on the way and it delayed us eating. Checking the clock, we rushed through our Italian meal and called our ride to take us to Ethiopian Village. We ran late. He ran late. We were behind schedule, but hoped to still get good seats. To my disappointment, the place was packed. We got out, scanned the seating in view of the projector screen, but no empty place remained. The waitress directed us to a spot just to the right of the screen. It was a half room with a small brick wall with a window that now sat between the screen and us. We could still here the buzz of the horns and roar of the crowd from the speakers that were just feet from us, but we were forced to watch a smaller TV just inside the L-shaped wall. I was upset, but not too disappointed because we didn’t lose the fun atmosphere of watching the game with a large group, we only lost the view of the large TV. I sat down on the left with my left shoulder touching the window on this one wall. Carrie to the right of me, then Jay, Mason, Jonathan, Catherine, Tori, and our new friend Matt. There were about ten others that were sitting more in the back of this small area off the main courtyard. We were obviously the not-so-serious fans, that didn’t arrive early enough to get prime seating. My pizza from the Italian place wasn’t sitting well. I knew we shouldn’t have gone there to eat.. I was hot. I continued to pull the curtain from the window to open it a little more to allow airflow through the crowded room. I couldn’t get the curtain to slide down to reveal the window. It was on a normal rod, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t slide. Half time is approaching. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to fight the crowd in the bathroom during halftime. I’ll go now.” I went to the bathroom, came back just before half time and sat down. I was proud that I thought to go ahead of time. Look at all these people that are about to have to stand in line. I was seated for no more than forty-five seconds. Jay began to stand to make the same trip just as the halftime whistle blew. Then, a sound we didn’t expect…
The sound that every person fears, shook the earth. Louder than a thunder crack, an eruption burst our ears. BOOM!
The window my shoulder is on imploded into the room… Billowing smoke... tables and chairs turned over… I can’t focus… why can’t I see? Where is my group? Where are the girls?… Get cover. My adrenaline kicks in as we stumble over debris. Jay and I grab Carrie and push us against the sturdiest wall furthest from the explosion. Where is my chaco? I’m walking barefoot on glass. There is blood everywhere. I can’t hear anything except the loud ringing in my ear. Where is this blood coming from? Is it mine? Not mine. Jay’s ok. My group seems fine. The green glass of the Mountain Dew bottles we had are now shattered across the floor. Two white people are on the ground right in front of us covered in blood. I can’t focus. All I can see what white mangled flesh and blood everywhere. We were slipping in it. People began pushing to the back. Bodies still lay in chairs and all over the ground. Some of the ten people that sat in the back of the room just feet from us now are not moving. What happened? Did the projector blow? Must have been electrical. This can’t be what my worst fear says it is. Can it? No. I know we are in Uganda but this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us. We are southern church kids raised in Alabama suburbs. It can’t be real. When I am going to wake up? Jesus! We began to pray. Father, save us. The curtain I wanted gone just minutes before, just saved our flesh from flying razor like pieces of glass. The projector screen we all flocked to watch now lay in pieces. We escaped the fragments of broken furniture and glass and began to make our way outside. We’re out. Our minds were scattered. Jay and Mason returned to offer help to others. More images were ingrained in our minds. A restaurant worker told us a truth we hoped and prayed wasn’t true, “It wasn’t the projector.” He stated,  “We think it was a bomb.” My mind raced. No way. That can’t be. A bomb? I almost didn’t want to say the word fearing that me stating it would confirm our biggest terror just became our biggest reality. Bloody people were being carried out as we began to hear sirens from a distance. Fifteen people confirmed dead. People that were literally sitting feet from us enjoying the game now are gone. A grown man wept knowing he lost his brother. Police arrived and began to push us back. Do we move? Do we stay put? Will there be more explosions? We attempted to walk away fearing it may not be over. Carrie passes out in Jay’s arms in the street. Carrie! We gathered. We checked ourselves for injuries… Nothing… The blood that stained our clothes we realized was not our own. We were UNTOUCHED. UNHARMED. UNSCRATCHED. Everyone else has cuts and blood all over them, how do we not have a single wound? We circled, with our arms shaking around each other’s shoulders and prayed to God.


We praise you.
We worship you and thank you for sparing us and protecting us.
We thank you for illustrating your faithfulness.
Lord, we don’t understand what is going on or why this happened, but we trust you. 
We will continue to walk in your ways and pray you guide our every step.
Through this Father, somehow, be glorified. Turn this act of evil into good.
You are God and we know you are bigger than any force of this world.
You have delivered us. You have spared us.
Be with these people. Be with these families. Reveal yourself in a powerful way Lord.
We are forever grateful of your protective hand upon us.
We once again surrender our lives to you and your will.

In your Son Jesus, we pray, believe, and trust,

… Amen

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sozo Children - Uganda

Thank you for your continued support. If anyone wishes to make a donation towards Sozo Children orphanage in Uganda, below are the details:

For more information and pictures:

Donations can be made out to The United Methodist Foundation with Sozo written in the memo and sent to:

Sozo Children International
PO Box 382586
Birmingham, AL 35238


Call Suzanne Owens
(205) 401-8968
Through Christ, Sozo Children International exists to save children from suffering through breaking the cycle of poverty, offering a better quality of life, and raising leaders in their communities. Sozo exists not to change a child’s culture, but to intercede on Christ’s behalf to save His children.

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Friday, June 25, 2010

From The Pearl to The Pride

The sun has just risen over Lake Victoria as I sit waiting to board the next flight to Kenya. A Ugandan voice continues to make announcements I can’t interpret as it mixes with the feedback squealing through the overhead speakers. Our plane is late. A hot cup of African coffee and a Mountain Dew has yet to fulfill my desire of pulling me out of my exhausted state. On top of my Christmas Eve type of anticipation of seeing my friends and family that kept me from sleeping last night, African storms filled the skies and shook the house. These storms also brought friends. Giant flying ants with wings a few inches long fluttered throughout the house. They even accompanied me in the extra cold shower this morning. Julius explained that when it rains hard enough, these ants seek dry areas. I guess the closest dry area to their anthill home was inside our home. Julius also explained that these are the same ants they occasionally eat! Jay commented, “Great, the kids can catch their breakfast today and clean the house at the same time.”

We just boarded the plane and I now write from 27,000 feet in a small steel tube. Nairobi bound. Lake Victoria resembles more of an ocean than a lake. Our budget booking has now revealed the truth in the word economy. I can barely hear myself think over the roar of the engines coming through the thin walls. As we were squatting to not hit our head on the ceiling a friendly flight attendant welcomed us. “Is this first class?” we jokingly asked. She replied with the same tone, “It is all first class today.” Appreciating her sarcastic humor I smiled and raced Jay to the window seat. Does “Shotgun!” apply on aircrafts? I would argue it does. The flight attendant then proceeded to explain the safety regulations. The intercom binged and then came the same schpill as usual. The intercom was really unnecessary for the twelve passengers on the plane, but for production sake it was nice. Honestly, I am so thankful to be aboard this flight. Even on top of the excitement of reuniting with my mom and some of my best friends, I have the next hour in the air to think. Even if it is about nothing. It is uninterrupted, unplanned, unstressed time to think.

A reality just hit me in the airport. As I was starting to type this post I had this sense that eyes were on me. I felt the stare of someone just feet from me. I looked up to see Sam. Sam is the guy that I sat next to on the flight from London to Uganda. We had eight hours to make hopefully unforced conversation. Thankfully Sam was a great guy who had the same heart for the Lord and passion for missions. He was 18 years old, traveling to Uganda by himself, to do mission work. He was very easy to talk to even though sometimes I lost his words due to his strong British accent. I would kill for a British accent. Think about that! “Cheerio!” Anyways, I met Sam on the flight to Uganda, and on the next flight we both boarded out of Uganda, three months later, we meet again. What are the chances? We briefly caught up and exchanged quick stories of our stay. He had been working with churches and small villages. Our flight boarded so I didn’t get a chance to tell him the exciting news and what God has done in my life over the past three months, but it really got me thinking. Three months. Wow. The time has flown and crept at the same time. One moment, usually in high stress trials, I can hear the extremely slow tick of the clock. The next moment I feel like I just blinked and weeks of excitement passed. I am so amazed in what has been accomplished in the time here. Things I never thought would happen at speeds I didn’t think possible. That is just a small piece of this entire story that is so incredible. Another piece of evidence that shows this has not been put together with human hands. The only way this happened is the power and presence of our Creator. Jay and I are Two twenty-three year old guys that haven’t a clue how to speak the native tongue, adjust to this foreign country, or raise kids in a land and culture that neither of us know. I was going to retype that but I decided to leave it… We don’t know how to raise kids… at all. We are learning fast and experiencing something our future spouses will appreciate. It proves a truth I have learned while being here. God does not use us based on our abilities. It is not up to our abilities. It has nothing to do with our abilities. It is only the direction and willingness of the heart. That sounds like some deep thought that has some ambiguous meaning, but the meaning of that truth is something that has been so clearly revealed to me. God does not require us to have everything figured out before we go to him. God does not ask for us to change before we surrender to his will. God does not desire us to have an action plan, 3-step process, or business model before we decide to take steps of faith in his direction. It is the simple yet complex change of heart that I believe is desired from God. I am very comfortable with a business plan and organization, but sometimes God calls us out of our comfort in order to show us that HE is the one that is doing the work. Once we release control and let go of pride, God shapes our surroundings and us exactly how he needs it to be for his will to be done. This could have never happened by the strength of people. Yes, people were involved, many of them, all being very hard workers, but all glory goes to God. He takes the impossible and the unattainable and makes it possible and attainable. He makes the distant shore seem close enough to grasp with him being the rudder steering the direction of our life. That is the reason I think sometimes the least likely people in the most complicated situations are used to point to his greatness. It is the way that God shows these things can only be done through him.

Just as we reached our maximum altitude the flight began back towards the earth. Kenya looks different. Same dirt roads, but green fields now stretch to the horizon. Instead of the thick jungles throughout the hills of Uganda, Kenya has flat-topped trees scattered about flat plots of ground. The "Pearl of Africa" looks much different the "Pride of Africa", even though the flight was about as long as Birmingham to Atlanta. This is what I pictured when I first thought of Africa. Tall trees. Large grass fields. Zoo animals roaming the wild. This fits the cliche Lion King like Africa I have pictured since I was a child. The landing gear opened and the plane jolted in the sky. I thought the bottom dropped out of the plane. I looked down. Still there.

List o’ Life: Kenya:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All Around Update

Forgive me for allowing there to be weeks between posts. So for the people that actually read this, (probably Mom, Dad, Adria) I will work on posting more often. It has been so busy here, it has been hard to find time to sit and write. It has been hard to find time to even sit. And when that desperately sought after time is finally found, I sleep. Sleep has become a luxury. If I do sleep, about the time I fall deep into a slumber, either a barking dog, a crowing rooster, or a playing child wakes me up. Things are beginning to settle though, and routines are becoming habits. Schedules have begun to calm the crazy life we have lived over the past month. We have also got a group that is here from our church that is helping. Thanks Catherine, Carrie, Tori, and Mason.

A few days ago, I drove... a car... at night. It was ok, but a few moments made me a little uneasy since they drive on the opposite side of the road on the opposite side of the car. 

We found a bowling alley! You can bowl here for three dollars. Not too bad for a little American break from the world for a while. Except, unfortunately you don't get awesome bowling shoes like we do back home. You bowl barefoot. 

Jay and I, for sake of reputation, swore each other to secrecy of this next short story, but I thought it was too funny not to tell. If you can visualize it you will know why. Not long ago it was late at night and we needed to get a boda ride (motorcycle taxi) home. It was Jay, David, and myself. The boda bodas have 2 seats. One for the driver and one for the rider. Sometimes you can squeeze two riders. We could only find one boda. So... Jay, David, and I ... and the boda driver, all got on the same one and road home together. 

A few nights ago we were watching a movie on our 13" TV we have in the apartment. A roach the size of Kansas flew into the screen and landed right where Mason and I were sitting. I don't know where it came from, but there are some ridiculously huge roaches here. The girls ran up stairs and Mason let our a girlish shriek as he jumped on the chair! 

Many things have happened with the children. I will try to sum it up as much as possible.
Last Saturday we went to the Botanical Gardens to feed monkeys. It was Vivian and Carrie’s birthday, so we wanted to do something special. Once we arrived, we all did our best imitation of monkey calls, but obviously they were not very accurate because no monkeys came running. I’m not even sure what kind of sound a monkey really makes. We waved bananas in the air hoping to catch ones attention. Even with the enticing treats, still nothing. Even though we didn’t see monkeys, we got to eat all the bananas ourselves and play in a field next to lake Victoria for hours. It is also an awesome place to hike in the jungle. It was a wonderful day away from the home.

If you were to walk inside the compound walls of the orphanage, every morning you will find bed sheets hanging out on cloth lines stringing across the yard. Occasionally a mattress is drying by the side of the house in the African sun. This is all because of the children’s bladder issues, which results in constant bed-wetting. All of them don’t do it, but the ones that do, do it consistently. I mean every night type of consistency. Ronald, a seven-year-old boy never seemed to have a problem. The boy in the bed next to him though, Michael, wet his bed every night and claimed he didn’t do it. After a while of not understanding what was truly going on, we found that in actuality, Ronald, after wetting his bed every night would take off his sheets and switch them with Michael’s dry sheets. I couldn’t even get mad because of laughing and being amazed by what a great idea that was. Today Fatuma was crying and Jay and I rushed to the room to see what was the problem. Aggie told us, “She is crying because she just accidentally wet the floor because she couldn’t make it in time to the bathroom.” Jay looked down and realized he was standing in the same puddle. This was another moment that I laughed a little harder than Jay.

This past week all 17 children were taken to the doctor’s clinic to get basic check ups and tests. Thankfully we had great help with the group that is here. We taxied back and forth between the clinic taking 5 at a time. One by one each child got tested for HIV, Typhoid, and Malaria. One by one the tests returned. I had a fear that because of the background of these children and statistics, that at least one would return with a positive test. I held me breath while I received the news and exhaled a sigh of relief when we found that ALL 17 are HIV, Typhoid, and Malaria NEGATIVE! Wow. Praise God!
Overall the kids are wonderful. They are healthy, picking up English quick, and really enjoying just being able to be kids.
The other day, we looked through pictures from about two months ago. You would be amazed how much they have already changed. You can’t see their bones through their skin anymore. Their smiles have gone from gloomy and forced to brighter than the sun. Their lives have literally physically and emotionally transformed. All glory and praise to God!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mango Tree Scars

Many things have happened over the past week. Too much to write. I’ll try to summarize.

Not long ago, after a church service, a few of us were lounging in the cool shade of an African tree. Little did I know, a bird lounging in the same African tree above us was precisely aiming his tailfeather crosshairs at me. Bird poo rained down all over my shirt and Phiona’s dress. All the African’s shouted with excitement, “A blessing!!! You have been blessed by the bird!” Not wanting to offend their version of blessings in African culture, I reluctantly smiled, and thought to myself, “Nay... I would rather years of bad luck than be blessed again by this bird or any other bird wishing to bless me with anything.”

Jay and I rode “boda bodas” from Kajjanssi to Bunga the other day. Boda bodas are like motorcycle taxis. At one point during our 15 mile journey, I looked down to see our boda going 95 KPM. While we were weaving Ugandan traffic, I reached out and touched the side of a bus to illustrate to Jay how close we were to it. I thought it was slightly ironic that according to my childhood rules I could not ride a motorcycle in the quiet suburbs of Alabama, and here I am riding a boda boda down the chaotic highways of Africa. It actually reminded me of riding a waverunner across Smith Lake waters, with the exception of the fall would consist of sliding across asphalt and not splashing in water. (Mom…. I’m fine, and I am being safe I promise)(Dad…. It was awesome. We have to get one when I get back!)

Julias (Ugandan working with Sozo) and I went to the Kajjanssi market the other day to get 3 live chickens for the children’s lunch. We maneuvered our way through the stands to find the chicken cages in the very back. It reeked. I mean… REALLY reeked. We picked out our lunch carefully. It was a little different than browsing the menu at Chick-Fil-A and choosing what picture looks most appetizing. With the smell and the sights in our area, nothing looked appetizing. Julias handed me a chicken (Leonard) and instructed me to grasp it by the wings. Leonard and I met there in the market, and we then boarded a taxi. I didn’t catch the other two’s name or opinion of the taxi ride, due to Leonard’s disobedience on the way home. He kicked and clucked until we reached our destination. Our friendship was not long lived, since I was peer pressured into taking his life by decapitation soon after so we could have him for lunch. I am still unsure how I really feel….

There is one spot in this country I can fully relax. I am talking of a nap that tops any nap I have had in the past. A place where there is solitude without distraction, sunshine without heat, rest without stress, and silence without interruption. That is in my hammock hanging between an avocado tree and a mango tree in the compound yard. I have read, prayed, rested, napped, slept, snored, drooled, and fully loved the time in the hammock. I joke that the best money I have ever spent was on this hammock, but I am actually very serious. During this time I have spent hammocking (verb form of to hammock) I noticed these deep gashes in the mango tree’s trunk. Inquisitively I asked David what these marks were. He told me they are machete slices that have been hacked into the side of the tree leaving permanent scars deep in the bark.  He said, because of these machete cuts in the bark of this tree it produces better fruit each year. The process is called grafting. The tree bleeding sap somehow changes the composition of the fruit in turn making it much better to eat. If trees are not grafted the fruit is worthless.

These past few days have been quite the experience. Serious life experience. I feel like I just became a father OF 17 CHILDREN ALL AT ONCE! I think I have all the same feelings a new father has. I am amazed at God’s glory, stressed, having so much fun, overwhelmed, looking forward to the future, and praying that we take the correct steps. There are so many different things going through my head all at once.

Move in day was another mountaintop. The kids were filled with joy when they realized what was going on. We toured the house with them and showed them the bunk beds we worked hard putting together. After, we handed out new clothes for everyone. It was like Christmas morning, but hot… and in May… and in Africa. So really, the only thing that resembled Christmas morning was the excitement of the children. Their life literally changed in a day. Vanitah, the oldest girl in the group told Brendah, “This is the day that I have been waiting for.” I was blown away seeing these kids rejoice in the dramatic change. Everything was different. They now had a new home, a new family, a new hope, and a new life. Nothing from this day forward will ever be the same in their lives… or my life.

The mountaintop didn’t last long. A valley soon crept in. Murphy’s law and the attacks from this world were extremely prominent. Kirabo had to be rushed the hospital due to a severe malaria case that could have easily taken her life. The power was out constantly. We were running out of money. Victoria was diagnosed with whooping cough. Bugs were swarming the house. We went without running water for the first two days. We had no transportation. Because of busy schedules and miscommunication our relationships were strained. The feelings of joy and peace quickly turned to a mountain of stress. All of me was still in awe of God’s awesomeness and work that happened so fast, then a tiny piece of me was thinking…. “What have we done?!”
God lead so quickly, and for some reason pieced this together much faster than any of us had first imagined. Even when I don’t fully understand, his plan, will, and timing is awesomely perfect. I graduated college almost exactly one year ago, and I never in my wildest dream would have predicted that God would have me here in Africa, with a childhood friend of mine, opening an orphanage. At the time of graduating Auburn, I pictured a new Jeep and a well paying business job. I pictured suits, shined shoes, and a new watch. I pictured me signing the contract on a house with a white picket fence, hopefully near a golf course, searching for the girl of my dreams. A year ago, I pictured me sculpting my perfect American dream. I didn’t imagine the blistering heat of Africa, with oversized roaches, cold showers, 17 children that don’t speak my language, adjusting to a culture I don’t understand, sharing a bedroom, with no air conditioning, sleeping below mosquito nets, washing dishes and clothes by hand, all under a roof sheltering orphans. If I were to tell you that everything was easy in this portion of my life story, I would be lying. If I were to say that everything goes smoothly and as planned when you do God’s work, I would again be not revealing the full truth. If I were to state that life here in Africa is always 100% of the time fun and joyful, and I don’t miss some comforts from home, I would again be misstating facts. BUT, after really reading scripture, and forming a REAL relationship with Christ, I have quickly realized how backwards the perfect American dream actually is. I was before seeking to build my kingdom, not God’s kingdom. I was conforming to the American mold of being a slave to a career all week, neglecting my friends and family, and only living for the weekends. Once the weekends I lived for arrived, I would just live for myself, NOT for God, and NOT for others.  Was that fighting the good fight? If I met Jesus at the gates of Heaven then, would he have said, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” In MY opinion for MY life and for MY calling… No.

Like I said, things here have been difficult at times. I have questioned and even complained. I have thought things I have never thought and done things I have never done. Through all, God has shown me how majestic and incredible he actually is. He has shown me how blessed I am to be here. God has revealed how much he loves me just to allow me to know him, and be a part of this perfect picture he is painting. My perspective has flipped. The other day I think I prayed the first honest prayer of thankfulness for the meal I was about to eat. Yes, there has been pain and hurt along the way, but for good reason. When a mango tree is grafted it bleeds sap in order to produce a better fruit. Somehow miraculously, because of the scars that are cut deep into the tree’s trunk, the mangos taste incredible. The mango trees that are not grafted produce fruit that is worthless and their branches are barely good for shade. Through a trial that eventually heals, scars remains. Because of these wounds better fruit is produced. As hard as it is sometimes, we should rejoice in our sufferings. We should thank God for trials. These are the times we are closest to him. When we are in the fire of life, is when he is right next to us not letting us be consumed. Christ never promised following him would be easy, or materially prosperous, but he did promise he would complete his good work in us and proclaim our name to the Father. He did promise that when we are filled with his Holy Spirit, we would produce fruits of the Spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control. Those fruits become more and more apparent as we become closer and closer to God.  The opposite is also true. During the times in life when we are knocked to our knees in prayer, honest genuine prayer, God’s presence is overwhelming. The peace goes beyond all understanding. His comfort is poured upon us, and our strength is renewed. Yes, we will go through trials. We will lose jobs. We will lose family and friends. We will answer phone calls that bear bad news. We will, throughout life, discover things we wish we never knew, and hear things we wish we never heard. The closest people to us, we will hurt, and hurt for. We will break promises, and have many more promises broken. We will not understand and ask the question why many times. We will be overwhelmed beyond a point we thought possible. We will shed more tears, and we will feel more pain. This is when we rely on Christ. This is when God brings us to a point when we have to rely on him. When things are going great, we tend not to rely on God thinking we have this life figured out. Everything is in line, the bills are being paid, and the children are fed, why do we need God now? This is one of our countries biggest problems. We have SO MUCH, that a great deal of America doesn’t need or rely on God to provide anything. That is the void that can not be filled by this world, and only by Jesus. We only turn to God when we have no where else to turn. But, this reliance on our Creator, during times of suffering, shows us how big he actually is. That through anything, even the worst of the worst, the grace of God will sustain us (Psalm 55:22). I am where I am today, ONLY by the grace of God. You are where you are today, ONLY by the grace of God. Even the things our human perspective perceives as bad will be worked for the good (Romans 8:28).

Even though sometimes this is difficult. Even though sometimes this is hard and I would really enjoy a comfortable couch, drinkable water, a cool fall day, and being able to visit friends and family without flying over an ocean, I will rejoice. Yes, I have complained. I have hurt. I have been confused. I have asked why. My flesh has struggled. But through it all, I consider it pure joy. If I am going to grow closer to God and more complete as a Christian man, then I welcome it. I have to remind myself of this fact often, and reread the verses James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. “

The next time a trial is in your life, and there is a struggle in your path. Change your perspective. Turn to God with thanksgiving and honest genuine prayer. God wants our hearts, not our religion. Know that through trials he is refining who you are, and equipping you for the future. When we do that the Peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds. (Phil. 4:6-7) I am very unqualified to write these words, for often times I do not do exactly what I say right now… but I am striving for it. God is changing me and refining me daily. I will rejoice knowing that my Savior is making me the person he created me to be. 

After typing this and not posting it, we are now beginning to see the fruit of these trials! Great stories to come. It has been a great couple of days! God is good!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Miraculous Timing

I haven’t sat much during the past week or so. We have been going, going, and when we though it would so down, continued going.

I think Gary is gone for good. He hasn’t called, he hasn’t written, he stopped sending flowers, and I don’t know what to think. My guess… He made it big on the Discovery Channel and moved to a nicer place on the Nile. I think I saw him the other night during Reptile Riviera. You just can’t trust geckos these days. On the other hand, Tony has entered our lives. Tony is the Chameleon that has been hanging around recently. Turns out, Chameleons change color not based on their surroundings for camouflage like many think, but actually their moods. Google it. Or believe me, because I already did. We like to think Tony talks in an Italian mob-like accent. (add Italian mob-like accent here) “Yo talkin’ to me? Ya? Keep da change ya filthy animal” Home Alone anybody? (This is what happens after over a month of time when there is only one human around who fully understands your language.)

The past days between my last written blog post and now, have been ridiculously busy. SO much has happened, and SO much is still in the plans of happening. God is moving like I have never experienced. Words on a blog will not do it justice, but I again will do my best.

God’s timing is exceptionally perfect. Even when I humanly question it on occasion, I am always shown how exact and precise it is. (Proverbs 3:5-6) When I am impatient, God doesn’t just always bestow a miraculous gift of patience, God gives me an opportunity to be patient. (James 1:2-4) When I am comfortable, God weaves in an inciting incident that causes me to move. (Romans 5:3-5) When I take a second and really examine how intricate God’s plan is, it amazes me. When I think about my life after FULLY surrendering to His will, everything from the past, everything now, and everything in the future is perfectly woven together. I know that there are no such things as coincidences, everything happens for a reason, and it is all for the glory of God. (Romans 8:28). I honestly didn’t know exactly the reason why I was coming to Uganda. I knew I was to go though. When you feel the power of God pull you towards anywhere, even Africa, you go. I was very confident in the journey, even though I didn’t know the ultimate endeavor. Many things were in my head, and there are probably many reasons God has me here, but I now know one for certain. God’s children are in need. And they have been put in my life, and I in theirs, again… for a specific reason.

I am about to be very transparent and honest right now, so if you don’t want to know the truth, feel free to discontinue reading. Just to let you know the sugar coating in this story is about to melt away. You reading this probably know from my earlier blog posts, pictures, and the recent video we made, we have been drawn towards certain children at an orphanage in Kampala. They were in need, and we had resources to meet their needs (thank you again). Our heart broke for these kids in their situation. They do not have clean water. It is pumped from a rusty well, which is filled with impurities and disease causing bacteria. The water is not boiled before they drink it. They didn’t eat but a few times a week. When they did eat, it was rice and beans, served in what looked like dog bowls. Their clothes are rarely washed, and look like something you would find in the trash. These are hand me down’s hand me downs. Most of them had not left the orphanage in years. The trip to the zoo was the first time those kids had left in TWO years. The other day we were walking down the street to get juice and bread with the youngest children, which has become our favorite part of the day. We noticed marks on their feet. David asked them what it was. Vivian replied, “It is from the rats that bite our feet at night while we sleep.” The same day, we found out Dennis and Fatuma had Malaria. All of the children have worms, and most have visible ringworm on their scalp. We are praying our fear that some may have HIV turns out to be false. We will know soon. They are sick, and literally dying, and no one is doing anything! How can I describe heartbreak with more emphasis? Are there words? If so, I can’t find them. These precious children are malnourished, thirsty, sick, have no family, are clothed in rags, and inside a prison cloaked as an orphanage. Please read Matthew 25:34-45. This is what Jesus is talking about. Don’t get me wrong, there are many MANY other cases across this world, probably not many miles from your home, but this is one is very VERY clear. Are we to continue to quick fix the problem? Are we to merely bandage the wound? Not this time, not in this situation, and not with these children. God desires more and is very clearly and quickly leading to more. God desires healing and is going to use people like you and me to be a part of a miracle. We need your help. I pray that these words find you with a generous heart that desires to be a part in the miracle of saving God’s children.

Back to God’s timing… God placed a piece of a vision in many different people, and now is beginning to put the puzzle together. All of us desiring to follow God’s will are now seeing the fruit of his Spirit. Once we got to Africa, we discovered this situation with these children. The story had a little more clarity. We began to act on God’s voice, and formed relationships that we could not do without. God placed people in our lives that would be essential for this healing to take place. Patrick, David, Eddie, Alfred, Phiona, Brendah, Julias, & Aggie are Ugandans we now call friends. All of our hearts ached for these kids, and God used it to shove us into motion. The government has now intervened, and is drastically reducing the size of the previously formed orphanage to make it manageable. Children are in route back to the streets or the pieces of families that could not take care of them in the first place. The past few weeks God had revealed so much in the next steps. It is as if we finally found the box top to the puzzle, and were able to see the final picture. Now we are taking the steps to get there. The best part is God is guiding every step. How could we step wrong if the artist of the picture is guiding the strokes?

Want to see the beautiful picture being painted or the intricate puzzle being solved? We had the vision, and formed the idea. The people were put into place, long before we knew the reason, and the friendships took root. The old orphanage after many years is just now being reduced and relocating children. Good relationships had been made in the past, which gave us access to these children. The children are in desperate need and we know others with the resources to help. We found a house. A big house. 5 bedrooms, large compound with lots of green grass, and a view that overlooks the lush countryside of Kampala. It just happens to be right next to a Christian school. We went to the orphanage on a Tuesday, when we normally don’t, and just happened to run into the government agent handling the case. Another relationship formed in perfect timing, perfectly put into place. The next Wednesday, on another visit to the home we just happened to run into the Home director and told him our idea. We can’t take all, but we can take some of these children and really… really care of them and grow them in a Christian environment that will provide for their every need. We sat down and picked the 20 children we were going to take. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We of course decided to take the 14 we have been around so much and already fallen in love with, but then had room to take 6 more. We knew a few older ones amongst the many, which stood out to us for some reason. I don’t know why they stood out from the 96 children, but we mentioned them to the director. As he smiled, he replied back, “Those are actually the siblings to the previous younger one’s you are wanting to take.” Chills ran up my arms when we realized that we just selected siblings. By coincidence? These are a few of may examples. It is just God at work, guiding every step, every decision, and every thought.
Back in Birmingham, Suzanne Owens and many others are working tirelessly to put together a non-profit organization to make this dream reality. Sozo Children International. It is a vision to build orphanages across the globe. We will grow leaders in their own communities built solid on the foundation of Christ, and educated to give back to their community. The will have the resources to turn their home into a desirable home and share Christ’s love with others. We are making disciples, to in turn make disciples, to make disciples, to make disciples… should I go on? We are taking a step of faith. When I refer to we, I refer to many more than Jay and I. There are many here in Uganda and back home in the States on board. A few of us are fronting the money and making this happen now. We are trusting in the voice of God and his provision in his plan. One of the best parts is, this reliance on God will only give me more words of an incredible story to post on this blog about God’s faithfulness! He is always faithful. God has never proven unfaithful. It is about our trust. I have to remind myself to FULLY trust, not just most of the way or what will not take me out of my comfort zone. But COMPLETE trust.

Sozo –  a Greek word for “to save; to rescue; to make well; to heal; to save one from suffering”

Sozo Children International is going to change children’s lives forever. This ministry is going to literally save children out of poverty and suffering. Sozo will provide a way for them to personally know Christ, and share his love with others. It is going to make an impact across the globe. Jesus’ love will be clearly illustrated through caring for orphans. Help it happen. Be a part of God’s miracle. God is simply waiting on your trust and your “Yes” to him. He will provide. I want to ask whoever reads this, to be a part of what is happening.

If you haven’t already seen the video we made I encourage you to watch it. Very soon I am going to have many many more pictures and stories about the children and us moving into the new home! God bless

James 1:27
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”