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.”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010