Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this : to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. -James 1:27

Monday, December 31, 2007

More stories about the holidays…

I didn’t mention anything in the last update about the awesome family trip that we took to Kenya. A week before Christmas 10 of us traveled across the Malaba border into new territory for me, Kenya. After stopping at the border to get a one time visa we were off. I was surprised that Mbale is only about an hour and fifteen minute drive from the border. The first main difference I noticed in Kenya was that they required everyone to wear a seatbelt. The second main difference I noticed is that they have police checks what seemed like every 50 miles. Sometimes they would flag you down, glance inside, and send you off, but other times they would ask all sorts of seemingly ridiculous questions (for example: even though we have Ugandan license plates we were often asked, “Where are you from?”) Maybe it was for protection but maybe the questioning was a slight power trip. All in all we had no trouble and were freed to pass the road blocks.

In Kenya we were headed to Nakuru, but in order to get there we had to pass through the East African Rift Valley. At the beginning of the drive it was really beautiful. The land was lush and green and we were driving though the mountains so there were beautiful areas of overlooking into the valley. But then we got into the actual rift of the valley. I don’t know exactly what the definition of “rift” is, but maybe it means dry, dead, and deserted. Actually there were people living in this area but I have never seen a place so dry. The only source of food I saw were goats and honey, in which it seemed at every road hump along the way there was a woman waiting at a stand hoping you would by from her. Realizing that people cannot survive on honey and goats alone, curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask what these people eat. Mama said that they sell the honey and sometimes their goats and travel to the nearest town to buy other types of food. I will tell you that the life of survival that he people in the Rift Valley do is rough and seemed to be simply survival.

As we got closer to Nakuru the sight of green trees became more frequent again. We arrived in the evening and to my surprise it was cold. Very cold. Maybe very cold is a slight exaggeration because it was realistically about 50 degrees, but remember that it has only been getting hotter here, so I have not tasted winter weather this Dec. We stayed at Pastor’s brother’s house. This couple is very very nice. We all really enjoyed there place. We also got to visit the hospital in which both of the work at. He is a doctor and she is the head nurse there.

The next morning we headed to Nakuru National Park. As you drive into the park you are moving towards as sea of pink. FLAMINGOS! Wow. There were thousands of them and I learned that not all flamingos are pink. We also were able to see monkeys, baboons, zebra, rhinos, huge storks, wildebeest, and gemsbok. Midway through our day we stopped at a scenic overlook in which you are allowed to get out and move around or have a picnic. Well, the baboons have learned that people come with food to this spot, so as we were taking pictures in a gazebo that overlooks the park, a huge baboon sneaks up from the side of the cliff and jumps over the wall into the gazebo. As you can imagine there were screams and we were all running. Well, little did we know that this guy would come for food. As we were running he kept following us until Mama shouted, “Give him the peanuts’. So we threw them and he stopped his chase. It was quite thrilling to be chased by this guy and I have never jumped into a van a shut the door so quickly.

The next day we took a drive back into the Rift Valley to Lake Bogoria National Park. Here we also saw flamingos and zebra, but the main attraction was the hot springs. Some areas had water shooting out of the rocks like geysers and some areas were just bubbling water. There were even spots that the ground was beginning to deteriorate and so water was seeping up and creating boiling mud holes. I was curious, along with everyone else, so I did attempt to touch the water, despite the warning signs, and it was boiling. No one fell in and so we headed back out to do some shopping in town for crafts and supermarket things because they have much bigger supermarkets than in Mbale.

We left Nakuru very early and spent half the day traveling back. Minor mishap of a leaking tire, but Praise the Lord for the driver’s awareness and for God’s traveling mercies to get us to and from Kenya. Maybe I will get to go to the beach in Kenya next time?

The youth group at church went to a sister church to visit last week. It was such a blessing to my heart and to the people at that church. The church is up the mountain, about 20 min outside Mbale town. Well, there was no church sign on the windy mountain road, so we passed it and proceeded up the mountain, only to realize we had gone way too far. But I had never been up the mountain so I was absorbing everything I could see. Having grown up in Austin, I can’t imagine life in which everything you need to sustain yourself you grow, care for, or fetch. For example, the people on the mountain eat from their gardens and have assembled as sort of tube system to collect the small water streams from the mountain and use the tube to run the water into a small pool. Or they can place their jerrycan under the tube and the water drains right in. Maybe this is too much detail, but I was really fascinated at how clever this was. It saves time, assures water is there, and gives clean water (more so than the boreholes).

Back to the church visit. Once we found our way by stopping 4 times to ask the locals, we reached the church and were very warmly welcomed by the pastor and some of the youth. The church was decorated so beautifully for our visit, with strings hung in every direction and balloons and flowers hanging from the stings. During the service they had each of us stand and introduce ourselves and ALL of the elders and deacons of the church gave us a public greeting and welcome. The value of the church body, as a whole of believers, was very evident here. The Lord does not desire for us to work alone, but to fellowship and be encouraged, taught, corrected, and loved by one another. And in return, as with most spiritual things, you too are also blessed. Every member of the body of Christ needs each other. We cannot do it alone and were not meant to; that is why God gave different gifts to different people. So just as our visit encouraged this church, I too was (and am) reminded of how encouraged I am by you. Yes, you, if you are reading this, especially my brothers and sisters who are standing beside me in prayer and financial support. Thank you because I cannot be here without you. There are many daily details of life that happen that I see the Lord’s hand in teaching or protecting and I know that it is by His grace and that there are people back home who are lifting me and particular situations up in prayer. How sweet it is to partner together and all walk obediently in whatever God has called us to. I pray that we would all walk in excellence, and not just routine.

So, thank you again for reading and keeping me updated on your life. I want to wish you a very Happy New Year. I will have begun 2008 nine hours before most of you, so I don’t think I will be watching and counting down with those in Time Square, but I do have plans to see fireworks at a nearby hotel and I hear there is going to be dancing (and I really like to dance!), so it should be fun.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I know that Christmas was 2 days ago, but here it seems that the holiday season extends the whole week between Christmas and New Years. Things in town are a bit slower and families are still away in the villages visiting relatives. Even on the radio right now is “Oh little town of Bethlehem”.

Christmas seemed to have snuck up on me. Really it has been a great lesson as to how much I personally have infiltrated the true meaning of Christmas with outside things, such as consumerism, tradition, and external stimuli (ex. Cold weather, music, decorations, parties). So, I knew before coming to Uganda that this Christmas would be different and draw me back to the real meaning of Christmas, rather than the traditions that I place on Christmas. And that it did. Yes, we had a Christmas tree, but it was not big or the focal point of the living room. And there were never any presents under the tree. Here they give big “family gifts” throughout the weeks before Christmas. So, 2 weeks before Christmas Mama gave all of us girls a new top and some pajamas. It was nice that the big thing that is looked forward to on Christmas morning was going to church, rather than opening presents. We woke up Christmas morning and got dressed up, looking “smart,” for church. It seems that dressing up in new clothes for Christmas service is the big deal around here. All the women in church were wearing the traditional “gomas” and had their hair styled in the salon the day before. Little kids were wearing little suits, so cute.

I was really blessed by the service. The first hour of church they gave opportunity for people to stand up and share a testimony of what the Lord has done in their lives in the past year. Many stood with stories of financial struggle and God’s provision, or of health, or one story of God being a God of justice because the person who was stealing a goat every Sunday morning when this woman went to church was caught for another crime. But there were also stories that were nothing less than a miracle of God. One woman stood with her son and told how the son has lost his respiratory ability through his nose and mouth. The local hospital was not able to manage this case, so sent the boy and the mother to another town. While on the bus on route, the boy collapsed but was revived. At the hospital, the doctors counted this boy as dead, but were able to put a tube in his throat, which is what he now breaths through. The changing of the tube is a very delicate situation that could easily end in death if something goes wrong. I know this is a sad story, and not finished yet because the boy still needs operation and the husband is also sick, BUT I tell you this to proclaim the goodness and peace of the Lord. I wish you could have seen the joy, despite circumstances, that was in this woman’s face. Truly her faith and hope lies in the LIVING God and she stood up, unmovable in her belief that the Lord is healing her son and her husband. God truly does grant the faithful peace that passes ALL understanding.

Time is short now. So I will finish later. But the rest of Christmas day was filled with food (yes I had turkey, but more in the form of a soup to put over the bananas) and the night we went to a concert of local Luganda artists. Everyone seemed to really have enjoyed this and there were tons of people at the concert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

holidays are here

Holidays are here.

Hello there. Well, as you are embracing the colder weather and enjoying the festive season with dreams of snow, drinking hot chocolate, and seeing all sorts of Christmas lights and decorations, Uganda is getting hotter by the day. It is really different because it does not feel like Christmas at all, but rather summer. I have started listening to Christmas music so maybe by the time the 25th reaches, it will seem. But overall, my heart was prepared knowing that this Christmas would be different. It was placed on my heart that this season will really be rooted in the true meaning, rather than the traditions that we keep (that I so greatly love). But I think we will be setting up a tree on Sat.

Friday was the last day of school for the kids until the beginning of Feb. The last week I got to meet Mr. Rob, the president of GICF, for the first time and really enjoyed getting to chat with him and see him interact with the kids and the staff. It was also exciting to hear more details and vision casting of what is in store for LCH, God willing. Hopefully in Jan we will be adding 20 new kids. Wow. That will mean that there will be 90 kids who now have a hope that was not there before in the previous lifestyle.

Each day my little “apartment” is feeling more and more like home. Although things take a while to get done with “African time” but all the little things I was hoping for (such as a screen door to keep out mosquitoes) are coming about. Also, I now have a string running across one wall in my room that I am able to hang photos and paintings with clothes pins. Yes it is kind of like an elementary classroom, but much better than a bare wall that felt like a hospital room.

Speaking of hospitals, 2 weeks ago I went to the main hospital of Mbale to visit one of the house mothers who was having a small procedure done. Wow, what an eye opener. First off, hospitals in the states are very closed in a sterile, whereas here the only areas enclosed are the actual wards that are holding people. So, as you pass on the sidewalks you see tons of people sitting, laying on mats, cooking food on a charcoal stove, bathing their babies in basins. It was as if they had temporarily moved into the hospital grounds. I didn’t exactly understand why there were so many people “living life” on the sidewalks until I reached the room in which Auntie Nusula was staying. Instead of nurses who attend to the needs of the patients, every patient has about 2 attendees. These attendees get food, get water, help move the patient to the bathroom, keep the patients belongings while they might be in the “operation theatre”, and sleep there with the patient in case there are any needs in the night. The room she was staying in was a special room, in which extra money was paid, but was shared by 2 other patients and their attendee. Down the hallway and as I looked in the windows of the other wards it was truly like you would see in an old-time war movie or a much more rustic hospital. People were in beds in the hallway, or in beds lined up one after another. There was no such thing as a private room here. You also saw people walking down the hallways with their heads bandaged and only their attendee helping them. At one point, we were sitting with Auntie, her IV way past due to be changed or switched off, and the nurse walked in. She informed us that she was the only nurse attending to the whole ward of patience. Since we did not have the proper syringe (because I think the patient was responsible for acquiring most supplies on their own) then she would instruct us as to how to change and begin running a new IV. I think she might have seen my eyes get really big in surprise and she proceeded to say, “When you are here, everyone is a nurse.” Yikes is all I thought in my head. So, temporarily I thought that my next endeavor might be to become a nurse, but that thought will have to wait for now and be prayed over a lot more.

Although this experience at the hospital might seem like merely a dose of reality, it was also very challenging in regard to loving and taking care of each other. Family and friendship take priority over your schedule or plans. The attendees slept in the same twin bed as the patient, or on the ground below the bed. Hello!! Many of us have a difficult time even making it to the hospital to visit a patient for 30 min, much less sleep there! I appreciate that there is family and extended family that comes as priority here. They take care of one another and live very communally, whether blood family, church family, or village family. I am challenged to realize how much of my time is selfishly spent rather than realizing the real importance of life in relationships. God created family for a reason. I pray that I will always remain mindful of this lesson I learned at the hospital.

Through a random chain of events in my first attempt to open a bank account (unsuccessfully), I was able to meet a group of Americans who are living in Mbale. I went to get photos for the bank, in which I was instructed NOT to smile, ha. I got to talking with the owner of the photo shop and she told me about the American community that lives here. We exchanged numbers and I told her I might be too shy to call, so I would appreciate her to call me when something is going on. Sure enough, I met about 12 Americans, ranging from families to people my age doing a 2 year internship. We dipped cookies and nuts into chocolate, listened to Christmas carols, and chatted. I praise the Lord for His divine appointments. Nothing is a coincidence in this life. To meet this group is an answer to prayers. They all knew each other because all but 2 of them work together with the same ministry, so I was a little shy and there was quite a bit of small talk, but I will continue to seek boldness in the Lord to get out of my comfort zone and build relationships with them. The only disappointing part is that the 3 girls who seemed my age left this week to go back to the states until May. But God knows all the desires of my heart and has been SO SO faithful thus far.

I was really blessed last week. One of the staff members at LCH had invited some staff to visit him at his home for lunch. Seeing as the children’s home is 30 min outside of town, his home was definitely in the village. I felt so honored when he asked me to come and meet his family. In all honesty, I feel that some people avoid inviting me to do some things because I am Muzungu and not used to the Ugandan way. I have had people ask Mama, “What do we do for the Muzungu? What does she eat? How do we serve her food?” when I have gone to visit. So, to be invited to Mike’s home was an honor. We walked about 20 min from the children’s home, down a dirt path. As we passed by houses he told us that this was were his clan’s property begins. We passed by relatives, greeting them. Then we reached his home. It was a square shaped building, all made from mud, with 2 rooms inside. The sitting area was very nice and clean (especially considering that the walls and floor were made from dried mud). There was a couch and chairs just like the ones in my room here and there were photos pinned up on the walls. And then came the feast. I was so surprised, as were the others who came with me. We had turkey, chicken, pork, matoke (the staple food of Uganda that is like plantains), millet bread, rice, soup (of course) and soda. It was when the food arrived that I realized what an honor it was to be sitting in that house among these people. This was a big deal and a way for him to honor his friends. We got to meet Mike’s wife, kids, mother, and father. I truly will not forget that day.

So, now that Holidays are here, I get to go to LCH and play with the kids. I do hope to meet with 4 of the P4 students for about 30 min each time I am there in order to help catch them up with how to read so they can be at the same level with the rest of their class. I am also eager because I think next week the family (with me) is taking a trip to Nakuru, a national park in Kenya. This will be a very wonderful blessing if it gets to happen and a good time to spend with Pastor and Mama before they leave the day after Christmas to fly to the States for their 2 ½ month visit for church plant planning.

Thanks for your continued prayers. I love hearing from you.