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!


  1. Allen, u r awesome!!!! I wish that everyone could read this!! It brought tears to my eyes. God is really using u to do great things for His Kingdom!!!!! Y'all r in my prayer!!! Much love, Kathi

  2. Kathi's right, this is something everyone should take the time to read and really think about. Post a link to Facebook or something! Kirabo and Victoria are in my prayers, along with the rest of you. Thanks for sharing, Allen! And I agree, that hammock was a great purchase. I was so close to buying one the other day.