Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Day in Our Story

Since being in Africa, my perspective has changed on many things. One of those things is how we live daily life. Even though I have always had faith in Christ, I believe I used to view life differently. Mainly just a series of days that I just got through, striving to meet whatever goals I set the previous week, month, or year. Maintaining my “faith”, but continuing to live as I thought or pleased. But now that has changed. Through some thought, and inspiration from a Donald Miller book I read recently, I see life as a story. We have a choice to live OUR created story. One we do our best to create comforts, safeties, and happiness that often leave a void and emptiness. Then on the other side, life is a story God is desiring to write for us. One that he knows the scenes better than we do, and how they play out. A story that gives us a hope and a future (Jer. 29:11) But it is our choice whether to continue our attempt in creating a story we have no idea the ending, or listening and following the words he writes on our daily pages. Just a thought.

Today was a day in my story I will never forget. Today was by far the best I have had since being in Uganda. Today probably just got put on top ten days of my life list (not easy to make). And I am not exaggerating…

I was going to write this blog post about a few things that have happened this week. Like the banana pancakes Jay and I made from scratch that rivaled Cracker Barrels. Or the Chelsea Football (soccer) games we have been really enjoying. Or the guard dogs the landlord lets outside in our apartment compound at night, that persist in barking all night, every night. They say the dogs know who lives here and they won’t attack the residents if we go outside at night… yet I have never met these dogs. This may be another experiment I will let Jay be the variable. However, these stories will now have to be pushed back due to the experience of today.

Eddie (Ugandan friend), David (Ugandan friend), Jay (American friend), and I loaded up the van and drove to Mercy Home today. We walked in and greeted the children while they were going

about their regular routine at the orphanage. We gathered the 14 youngest, who most of my pictures are of, and who I have told stories about before. Jalya, Edrick, Ivan, Julias, Sharon, Deborah, Ronald, Freda, Vivian, Dennis, Victoria, Phiona, Fatuma, and Mercy. We told them, and the lady that helps take care of them, today was going to be different. Today we are going to the ZOO!

PAUSE. Yes, I know what you are thinking. “A zoo? In Africa?” The answer is yes, there is a zoo in Uganda, Africa. The next question you may have is, “What animals do they have there? Cats? Dogs? Deer?” The answer is no; just regular zoo like animals. Lions, giraffe, rhinos, etc. It is a little like having a refrigerator in an igloo.

CONTINUE

Their faces lit up immediately when they heard the news! Aunt Amis got them changed into what looked like their Sunday best. Some wore dresses, some John Deere t-shirts, but it looked like for the first time what they were wearing was fairly new. I am certain these are the only fairly new clothes they own. This was the first time they have left the orphanage area in two years….. two years. When is the last time any of us have stayed anywhere without leaving for two years?… Probably n

ever. Some of them have not seen the city and none had seen the zoo. Watching their eyes wonder at their surroundings throughout the day was half of the entertainment. When we entered the gates of the Ugandan zoo, I think most of them were slightly confused, but it didn’t take long for the excitement to build. We hired a guide to tell us about the animals and then set off on our journey viewing African wildlife… behind cages. Speaking of cages, these are not really U.S. Standard Zoo Board Certified cages. They are more like chain-link fences. All was great until I started inspecting the lion chain-link fence “cage”. When we got closer to the lion area, we noticed one crouched in the tall grass just below the viewing deck. (see picture) With eager steps, we all rushed down to get a closer look. Just as we lean

ed in searching for the hidden lion, it pounced out from the grass and charged the chainlink fence “cage”! It acted as if it were going to tear through it like paper and have us for lunch. David let out a shriek! I think Jay may have wet his pants. But it didn’t faze me… I was fine… yea…

We continued on, gazing at otters, crocodiles, camels and more. It was actually a great zoo. I guess it is a little easier when the animals needed for the zoo are in your backyard. Watching the kids was the best part. The zoo had a playground with swings and slides, which they loved. They laughed and played with each other and fully enjoyed the day. The kids, probably for the first time, were finally able to be kids.

After leaving the zoo, next we went to a place that would be ordinary in the States, but the given situation made our experience of lunch, extraordinary. Jay and I were looking for a cheap place to feed 18 people, so we called a hotel restaurant in advance. Cheap was the last thing it was, but after walking out, I would have paid double for the experience we had. While driving in the parking lot my stomach turned a little knowing just by looking at the place it was going to cost a fortune. The kids lined up and tip toed through the lobby of an extremely nice hotel. To give you a better idea of the level of hotel, it was the first place I have been in Africa that has air conditioning. That is a big deal. Slow jazz music played throughout the marble floored halls as we navigated to the restaurant. With business men scattered throughout the tables, here come fourteen kids, from about 2 to 8 years old, two Africans, and two Mzungus. To my surprise, it was much different than I had first imagined, and very different than I know it would have been back home. The kids were in awe. They looked at their forks with amazement in their eyes. Each child sat still, quiet, and patiently awaited our lunch. We ordered “Chicken and Chips” (basically roasted chicken and fries) and a soda for everyone. The sodas came out in glass bottles, and from years of working in restaurants, I know children plus glass bottles equals a dangerous recipe. The servers brought out the food and placed plates before them. They ate. There was silence. And then more silence.

We didn’t have to bribe or beg a single child to finish, or show us a clean plate. Every plate was spotless. Every bone was bare. Every bottle was handled with care without spilling a drop. You could see expressions of need change to smiles of satisfaction. “Muli Mubuli?” I asked. (are you satisfied?). Everyone nodded gratefully as Freda collected all the straws to take home. Jay and I both walked out with pure joy knowing that these kids just ate at their first restaurant.

Again, we loaded up into our van and drove to the botanical gardens. Hundreds of wild monkeys inhabited the trees that were above us. David stuck his arm out of the van window with cookies in hand to lure them in. We parked, got out, and monkeys crowded. They came from everywhere and kept coming. 5, then 10, then dozens of monkeys all around us.

Some were on the top of our van waiting on their free snack. Others on the ground and in the trees. Some were with their baby monkeys holding out open hands. The kids absolutely loved it! And I think my inner child loved it even more. It was funny to watch children like Dennis, build courage to feed a monkey out of his hand. The timidity of most showed that it was a very new experience. Except, Fatuma walked up like a champ giving out peanuts fearlessly. Each one of them laughed, shouted excited words in Luganda, and we could see the joy in their eyes. It was new. It was outside of the walls of their home. And how refreshing it was. For them and for me.

On the way home the children passed out from exhaustion. The bumpy Ugandan roads didn’t awake the deepest sleepers. Mercy was out cold on Jay’s chest and Edrick slept the entire way on my knee. When we finally made it back, they entered into the gates of the orphanage to greet the 89 other children we were unfortunately unable to take this time. It was heartbreaking, but we promised a future trip. Then, one thing happened that amazed me the most. We just got back from a day of fun. A day filled with laughs, and monkeys, and playgrounds, and charging lions, and excitement. A day of freedom that these kids acted like kids and enjoyed it to the fullest. And do you want to know the first thing they told their friends about? We got David to translate. The first thing they eagerly said to their friends as they entered the gates of the Mercy Home orphanage was, “We got to eat Chicken and Chips!!!”

What blew me away today was the fact that it was just a simple day in Uganda, and it would have just been another field trip in the United States, but it was one of the best days I have ever had. If it meant that much to me, how much more did it mean to them? I can’t even begin to imagine the memories the children will take with them forever. I’ve been to the zoo and nice restaurants hundreds of times, like most of us have. But the way God moves and blesses the time with these children is something I have never experienced. I am so blessed to be here, with these people, with these children, and with God’s hand directing it all. There has been ups and downs since I have been here, like there always are in life, but today was a mountaintop. And the BEST part is, my author has changed. Today was just a paragraph in a chapter of the story God is writing of my life. Now, unlike ever before, my story is being written by my limitless Creator and not me. I can’t even begin to describe the peace and joy that comes with this. Today, this experience, and this paragraph of my life, was absolutely beautiful and I will look back on it with stories and laughter forever.

Again, Thank you ALL who are making this possible and allowing God to use you to do work through your support and encouragement in Kampala, Uganda. It is making a bigger impact that I can write in these sentences and will create an eternal difference that we will all one day see.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Life is about the "Snails"

At 5:00am this morning I woke to sounds that I thought was the beginning of World War III. I quickly sat up in bed, not fully awake, hoping the attacks weren’t near us, when I soon realized it was merely thunder. Not just your average thunder though, but real African thunder. There is a serious difference in American and African thunder. This thunder here shakes the earth, knocks out the power, and extremely frightens peacefully sleeping Americans…. I mean… I was fine…. It didn’t faze me… But I bet Jay was terrified. Yea…

The saying, "When it rains, it pours" could not be more true here. It literally pours. I have a new definition of pouring now due the monsoon like rain that swung through Uganda today. I think I even saw a few cats and dogs falling from the sky. It is as if it hasn’t rained in decades and the cloud's seams finally burst from the pressure of years of stored water. But it rains like this often during this time of year. “Rainy season”. Since it feels like a sauna here year round, Uganda doesn’t have our typical Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. It is Wet, and it is Dry, and it is always hot. Two seasons. Right now, it is clearly Wet. On the way back to our apartment Patrick maneuvered his Camry through muddy rivers that used to be streets. Once, I honestly thought we wouldn’t make it out of the lake we drove into. I could feel the moving rocks through the floorboard. That is no exaggeration; we could honestly feel the dirt road scraping the bottom of the car. Jay and I exchanged nervous glances and eventually exhaled when we made it out. Just with another new experience to add to the growing list.

I have found many things to be different here. Everything is very good, but very different. While walking through the “Super Supermarket” (that is really the name… clever), there are not many brands or packages that I recognize. I am longer conditioned to the pictures on the packages to know what to buy. I now have to read the labels. Vegetable oil, peanut butter, cereal, and even ice cream all have unfamiliar names and labels. I have recognized two labels so far. One was Betty Crocker Cake Mix. Which by the way, Jay and I successfully made the first cake of our lives today for Patrick’s birthday. It was actually pretty good, and they all had positive things to say about American cake. The other label I recognized is Axe deodorant, but judging by my surroundings… I think we may be the only customers.

Jay and I also determined that there is no “5 second rule” in Africa. This conversation came up while walking to church Sunday morning. Jay’s recently peeled banana fell to its death into the Ugandan dirt. I found it much funnier than he did at the time. I quickly joked, “That’s still good. Five second rule man!”. But after examining the dirt and other unknown objects clinging to it, he decided it was not the best idea. So now, the new African food falling rule is, “catch it on the bounce” and it’s still good.

We are heading back to the Mercy Home tomorrow to go visit the children and bring them food. Again, thank you to everyone that is helping support us and making this possible. Every time we go it is another incredible experience. God always moves through these children, who have literally nothing but love God in the purest form. Inspiring and heartbreaking are words that don’t even do justice. We are hoping to do more and more as time goes on, and discern what is God’s next step. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. I will post more pictures and videos soon.

God has revealed so many things to me while only being here about 12 days now. Mainly it is to appreciate and invest in our relationships. Life is not about what we worry so much over. It is not about our jobs, salaries, the next promotion, or the next wanted possession on our list. It is no longer about climbing the ladder of success. Life is about the people we share this short time on Earth with, and how we use the blessings we have been blessed with. The other day, Patrick and I were deep in a work project in the middle of the day. His four year old daughter, Martha, ran up to us and shouted in her British sounding English, “Daddy! Allen! Come see the snails I found!” I glanced at Patrick almost expecting an irritated expression and time with Martha be pushed off. But it was different. He smiled. We stopped, put our work project on pause, and walked to admire the three snails Martha found in the driveway. We so often miss the sweet moments of life when we are so entangled in our frivolous worries. Scripture tells us do not worry, God will provide, as long as you seek His Kingdom. I have now experienced God’s provision. God is faithful. He always has been, He is today, and He always will be as long as I trust in Him. Overall, Life is about Loving God, and Loving others. Sounds familiar hopefully. It hasn’t taken me long to realize that while being here. Life is too short to miss those moments and not follow the perfect plan God has laid out for us. We are not promised tomorrow.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Experiences

A few days have passed now, and there are too many new experiences to write about. I’m still trying to take my surroundings in and process them. Everything is new. The colors, the smells, the sounds, the smells, the language, the smells, and the culture are all foreign to me. I am adjusting though. Thank you all who have been sending me encouragement and support. You really don’t know how much it helps.

Good news. I FOUND A CHAMELEON! Small things like this really bring joy to my days. And I found Gary in our kitchen today. The Africans here laugh at us Mzungu’s for being fascinated by the things here that we are not used to in the states. Chameleons and geckos are few of many.

Even though everything is different, I have felt an incredible peace being here. The people here are extremely friendly and welcoming to us. I occasionally get awkward stares while I walk through the markets, but they are usually only interested in a new color walking by. Only once has there been a moment when I slightly uncomfortable. Jay, Alfred (Our Ugandan friend), and I were walking through the market at night. All was well. We were buying water. The power goes out frequently in Uganda. It is very normal so everyone carries on there days when that happens. While in the market place, the power went out. The sea of people in front of me turned into Alfred’s white shirt, and Jay and I’s glowing flesh. Talk about standing out… I felt again that people were staring as if we each had two heads.

My Panasonic bike has continued to prove ineffective. 220,000 shillings, and then another 2,000 later to get the handlebars fixed, I assumed all was well and I could ride joyously to and from our apartment. Not the case. About 100 yards into our few mile journey, the seat broke. Riding a few miles standing the entire time, on Uganda roads, is not the ideal way of spending an afternoon. A fun, relaxing bike ride home turned into a wet shirt and heavy breathing. Jay found it entertaining and snapped a picture as I pushed my bike up the final hill.

My intention of this blog is to keep people informed of what is happening in my Uganda journey that God is leading me on. I want to keep it light, humorous, heartfelt, and informative. I don’t want it to be something that is always extremely serious or saddening. With that said, I will not always post these posts, but my heart aches for these kids right now, and I want you who read this know where our focus is in ministry right now. I want you to know the reality.

We went to the Mercy Home again on Wednesday. The feelings were about the same as the first time. We went to see what kind of food they had, then went back to the market to buy what they needed. Our fear, that they had not had a full meal since Easter Sunday, proved to be reality. We fed them Wednesday, Friday, and then again this morning.

Right when I got there, Daniel, one of the older boys, who does “acrobats” of balancing the bottles, came to Jay and I and had made us two soccer balls out of banana tree fibers, which I am sure took hours. He said he wanted to show us how thankful he was. Another came and told me he was making a ceramic cross to give to me. I felt so many emotions all at once. Loved and undeserving being two of many. These children are so thankful, and all we have done is brought them a few meals.

This may not be true for those of you reading this, but for me, before being here, I had become numb to the need in this world. Every time I saw a child in need, it was just another commercial or just another organization trying to raise support for kids that I will never meet. My brain would almost tune it out because I didn’t want to face the reality that someone out there is literally starving. It hurt my unrealistic bubble of happiness and security inside the United States. Of course I always felt for them, like most do, and wanted their needs to be met… but never saw it as an actionable step. Someone else will… Right? Or what difference would a few dollars a month actually make? Would the money actually get to them even? The need is too great, what can I alone do to make any difference? So many questions ran through my mind, obviously not from God, which eventually would talk me out of doing anything, or considering taking a small step of faith.

I have only been to this orphanage three times now, and the situation has become different to me. My perspective has changed. These children are no longer just children that I see in pictures or on commercials. It is personal now. These children have names. Edrick, Julias, Jalya, Daniel, Michael, Fatuma, and Mercy are a few that have touched my heart. They all desire not only food to satisfy their hunger, but love to satisfy their heart. They love to be loved. Their eyes all tell stories and will melt the strongest person. You don’t have to spend much time with them to see this. I know I probably don’t have to ask this, but will those of you reading this continue to pray for these children, and for God to direct Jay and I in the correct path.

One of the most frustrating things here that I have not been used to in the United States is the internet. I could almost mail letters overseas faster than emails work. That is a slight exaggeration, but it is terribly slow. That is the reason I have only written on this blog twice since being here because it takes hours each time.

I watch Jay and David slaughter a chicken the other day. I’m not sure how I feel… It was fresh and tasted amazing.

I got sunburned today. Turns out the sun is closer to the earth near the equator. Weird I know.

Thursday night we went to a church in Kawempe. We were under the impression we were going to play along with the previously formed choir. I took my guitar, and Jay played their keyboard. Once we got there, they said they were giving us the rest of the time to “train” them in music! I had an unqualified confused stare on my face wandering what to do. Everything actually went really well though. We played a few praise songs with them and taught them the words. They tried to pay us on the way out for our time and travel. Of course we didn’t accept it, but the fact they were going to pay us floored me since I knew the church couldn’t have had much money. They were so appreciative.

God is really showing me how big he actually is. God is not an American. God is not confined to our normal culture. God is limitless. He is the creator. He is the God of all and all are his children. These kids on the streets of Uganda are his children, and it is amazing to see them praise him! Mukama Yabizwe! (Praise God in Luganda (I may have misspelled it))

Saturday, April 3, 2010

First days in Africa

I have now been in Africa for my first 48 hours. Drinking my second cup of African coffee on Easter morning I can hear the cliche sounding cock-a-doodle-do’s from the neighbors rooster. My head is trying to process all the new things around me, and I feel like its on a dial up connection. A great deal is different, yet a great deal is the same. People are extremely friendly, food tastes very good, drivers are crazy, yet they don’t get mad during, and the atmosphere is laid back. People focus on relationships here. They carry live chickens by their wings. Everything is green and only some roads are paved. I am not sure where to start, or how to really blog. I have a thousand things running through my head looking for a place to make sense of my surroundings and experiences. Brother Jay picked me up from the airport. At first I thought he was driving which slightly terrified me, yet I acted confident. Patrick drove. We got into town and picked up my cell phone. Its like those nokia’s everyone used to have equipped with snake. It has a built in flashlight too. I was excited about that. The house is pretty nice. We have bathrooms, a shower bin, a kitchen, a porch and beds with mosquito nets hanging from the ceiling. When my imagination takes lead, I just think they are like the tents I used to build with sheets and pillows when I was a kid. No big difference, yet this one is guarding me from deadly disease carrying insects, not make believe things or G.I. Joe’s. Food is great. Different, bland, and less, but still good. We have been to a few small restaurants that have open air atmosphere and everything from chicken (encoco) to Porshe (not sure exactly. A little like white playdo?) Last night I had peanut butter and bananas on kipati’s (tortillas) Like every Saturday in the future, yesterday, we went to the Mercy Home, which is an orphanage for children from about 2yrs to 18yrs. I left speechless, fighting tears. I don’t really know what words could be best used to describe what is there but I will try. I hope these pictures help some. Muddy roads lead us to the gate that opened to many children’s love, affection, and hungry stomachs. We were greeted by a dozen or so kids all happy to see us. “Mzungu!!”, they shout as our van puttered to a stop. Mzungu translates to white person basically, but it does not have a negative connotation like these words do in the states. They had joy on their face to see us, and were delighted to see Jay since they have previously met. We brought rice and beans to feed to them since they only eat a few times a week.... Yes, a few times a week. I know... We got the center of the orphanage and I asked how many children lived there. I heard Patrick respond 23, but I soon realized I lost the true number in his Ugandan English. There is actually 103. Saxson (one of the older guys in the orphanage) got all of us to sit down. He said in broken English “We want you to know how thankful we are you all come each week, but we have nothing to give you. Instead, we have prepared song and dance for you.” They sang praise songs to God, and danced to show their thanks. I was speechless and felt so unworthy of thanks. Then guilty of the backpack a brought worth more than what these kids have ever had combined. They praised God and sang songs. It is incredible to see their joy in Christ. Then they all taught me to “pick rice”, which means pick out the stones in the uncooked rice, because it is “not good for the teeth.” During picking rice, I felt the presence of God like never before. Knowing these kids situations, seeing their love for Him in the midst of poverty, and trying to clear my head and worship by picking rice was a new and incredible experience. All these kids want to do is lay on you and hold your hand. They were enthralled with my hands, exploring a different skin color. Daniel, one of the older boys, wanted to show me his “acrobats”, which was him balancing bottles on a stick held by his teeth. It was actually very impressive. I didn’t attempt it. Broken glass bad for feet. I took a great deal of these pictures just to show the children their portrait, which they loved because I guess they don’t see themselves often. There was a language barrier that kept us from talking deeper than names, but a close friend of mine told me today that even as cliche as it sounds, Love is a universal language that shows Christ without words. (Thanks!) I wasn’t able to bust out my new haki sak yet(One other universal language), but I will be sure to bring it next time. The children lined up, youngest to oldest, to receive food. They waited quietly, did not argue, act out, or act impatient. They had better manners than any child I have met. Each one said thank you, or “Webale” in Luganda. Overall, it was a very mixed emotion experience. Sadness to see these children living with literally nothing. Pure joy watching their faces singing praise songs to Jesus. Guilt of my possessions and what I take for granted. Happiness holding and loving on these babies. Questions wandering now what I do to change this. As I said, there are no real words to describe this.
There was a gecko in Jay’s room today. I think I will name it Gary if I see it again.
I have my own bicycle. it is a Panasonic ProngedHorn. I road it in our yard and after the wheel turned the opposite direction I was steering, crashed. I knew I shouldn’t trust a bike made by an electronics manufacturer.
There are bearded dragon’s that run wild here. If someone had told me that, I would have been here years ago. I haven’t got a picture yet, but one I do promise. Alfred, the one other man that lives with us, said sometimes he finds Chameleons! ...The search is on!
Jay and I conducted an experiment today with the water purification system Colby gave us. We don’t have the instructions, so we winged it. I am the control. Jay is the variable. He tried to the water, and I didn’t. So if something happens to Jay, we know it didn’t work.
Now it is Easter morning. The first Easter morning I have spent away from family, friends and the United States. (by the way, I miss you all). Today is the day which make us Christians are who we are. Followers of Christ are built on what happened today many years ago. The resurrection of Jesus, which is a much more than just another holiday or reason to go to church. It is what gives us all the opportunity of forgiven sins, eternal life, and life to the fullest in Him. Easter is what gives us the confidence we stand on, the faith we have, and the assurance in Christ. Today is a day to celebrate. By his wounds we are healed. Today is the reason Jay and I are here. God on earth giving us Jesus Christ, Son of God, Word in flesh, was sinless, the spotless lamb that paid for all of our sins. He said on the cross “Tetelestai.” It is finished. Paid in full. Now, on Easter morning, think about today, and why it is what it is. Wow. It blows me away when I really think about it. I have been trying to find how to say Praise be to God in Luganda, but no luck yet. Maybe next time.