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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And Epic Thanksgiving Story Retold

I moved to Uganda in October 2007. Looking back, this was interesting timing, seeing as it was right before all the major holidays of the year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all 4 of our family members’ birthdays).

My first Thanksgiving in Uganda, I was living at the Ogenga’s house, and had come to the conclusion within myself that since this is Uganda and there is no Thanksgiving Day and I would just go throughout the day as if it was any other day.

But God works in mysterious ways. The previous week, Pastor had received 2 big (live) turkeys as a gift. So for a week these turkeys have gobbled near my window in the courtyard, waking me up every morning. Thanksgiving morning rolled around, which happened to be a public holiday. Around 11am, Mama passed me and asked, “Isn’t Thanksgiving coming sometime soon?” Mentioning that it was today, she quickly responded, “Well, lets have a Thanksgiving meal.”

Truthfully, excitement and panic flooded me. Mmm…. turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie. I was salivating just thinking of it. BUT how in the world can we pull this off? I had never made Thanksgiving. That was Dad’s joy. And he and Janece always have a menu planned a month in advance, shopping finished 2 weeks in advance, and begin the prep work at least 3 days before the actual day. Now I am here, the day of, 11 am, with only a live turkey. What the heck do I even do with that?!?!

But with some encouragement and willing hands to help, I decided to give it a go. As I made a menu and the list for the market, some of the boys around the compound took charge of the turkey. Yep, you imagine correctly. Catch the turkey, chop its head, put it in a basin, pour boiling water over it, pluck the feathers, and luckily for me, remove the innards.

After going to the market, remember EVERYTHING here is done from scratch, I came home with a load full of goodies. Thankfully Betty [Crocker] gave me step by step instructions on how to make stuffing and how to stuff a turkey.

Now this process was something all of its own. It is amazing what you take for granted as you eat it. The direction said, “Make sure the turkey is thoroughly washed inside and out.” Then take 1/3 of the stuffing and…. “WHAT!!??!! You want me to shove it where? Do you realize that in doing this my whole arm is inside this turkey that gobbled me awake this morning?!” But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to have this American feast. (At this point, I was so grateful for all that my dad did behind the scenes, since if we are honest, all I really did growing up was eat and wash dishes.)

After placing the turkey in the oven and instructing some of my helpers on what to do for carrots, pumpkin, mashed potatoes, and green beans, I remember thinking to myself, “This just might work.” We were busy and still had a lot to do, but things were moving along for an early dinner feast.

That is until the power went out. Ugh. This is annoying any time it happens. But especially inconveniencing when the oven that is cooking your turkey is electric rather then gas.

“Great. Now what the heck are we going to do?!” The turkey had only been cooking for and hour and a half and according to Betty Crocker, had at least 2.5 hours to go. That is 2.5 hours in an oven that consistently on and at a consistent 350 degrees. Hmmm. What to do now? There is no telling when the power will come back on.

So after much debate over what our options were, Jaja (my Ugandan grandmother) and I decided to put the turkey in a sauce pan, wrap it up with banana leaves, and put it on the charcoal stove, in hopes of steaming the turkey. About an hour into the turkey steam bath, the power come back on.

… A dilemma again. Leave it, or put it back in? Leave it, or put it back in? After a bit of eeny-meeny-miny-mo, we went with the oven route, testing our luck once again. Bad choice. Another hour later the power went out again. Ugh!!! Turkey is the key ingredient to Thanksgiving!

By this time it was almost 7pm, the rest of the fixing were ready and on the table, and the feasters were starting to get hungry.

With a headlamp, Mama and I carefully cut into the turkey to examine its edibility. Although still a bit tough, we determined it was cooked enough.

The final outcome was delicious. Though I didn’t get around to turning the pumpkin into pie, it was nice to eat something that reminded me of home in Texas. And the whole ordeal has given me a great story to tell throughout the years as Thanksgiving approaches.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ten Little Chicks

This story has two parts, so let me start at it’s genesis, though little did I know when it was happening that it would be the genesis of anything.

In Uganda, people have great joy.

This is a general state of content joy, without conditions. (I think this is because when they have their NEEDS met, that is enough. There is not a confusion of needs verses wants here. There is not the bombardment of keeping up with the newest, latest, most awesome whatever because what they have works). BUT when a gift is given, such as a new backpack filled with scholastic material, an even greater joy and appreciation overflows.

Often this excitement and appreciation is expressed through this signature African call, “Ayeyeyeyeyeeee!”, hands waving around the air. With little tangible possessions, it is often not store-bought “things” that Ugandans give back as an expression of their appreciation, but rather crops or animals from their farms.

Back to the genesis:
During the season of summer teams, the children and staff of LCH were divided into 12 groups and sent out into the community to be a blessing to our neighbors, delivering Backpacks of Promise to 100 school going village children. (see post “It is better to give than to receive”)

My group went to one of the farther areas. Climbing up the side of the hill to find huts and mud houses settled among the tropical terrain is surprising. But at every home we were welcomed warmly, with chairs being rushed out for us to sit on and handshakes all around from everyone who was in the vicinity.

At one of the homes, after giving the backpack to the school aged child, the mother did not want us to leave empty handed. Instructing us to wait, she disappeared behind the house. We then heard her shouting for her daughter to go around the other side of the house. Everything happening in the local language, I was unaware of what was going on until one of our teachers instructs the LCH children I was with to help the mother chase down a chicken. And off they went. Running through the shrubs and coffee plants.

To catch a chicken you must be fast. And in true chicken hunting fashion, you must be willing to make the dive when the perfect timing and cornering has been accomplished. So, with laughter and cheers, I see Charles dart away behind the house. Then he appears again still following a white chicken. The next events happened quickly: a dive, a grab, a chicken screech, and Charles stands up victorious, chicken in hand. In ceremonious way, he handed the chicken to the village child who had received the backpack so that that child could hand the chicken to the LCH child who had given her the backpack, while kneeling to show appreciation and respect.

My team returned with 3 chickens that afternoon. And that was the last I thought about those chickens until about 2 months later….

In comes part 2 of the story:
I was moving around the LCH compound chatting with some of the girls when I looked over towards a small wooden structure near the administrator’s house and saw one of our boys, Charles intently looking inside. I knew that the structure was the “dog pen” for awhile but the puppies had now outgrow it. So I went over to see what he was looking at.

To my surprise, there were two hens and ten little chicks inside the pen.

I asked Charles whose chicks those were. He replied, “Mine. They are the ones we got in the village when we gave the backpacks. ”  A bit confused I inquired more. He began explaining to me that when we returned to LCH he had been looking after the hens. Then one laid an egg so he put it in the pen. Then another egg and so on.

Now let me say that Charles rarely speaks, at least to me. And as he was explaining, he completely lit up. He continued to explain that there are three boxes in the pen because all three hens we received are now laying eggs. So he keeps them in their boxes while he is at school and lets them out in the morning and evening so they can graze.

I pointed out an exceptionally white chick and told him that was my favorite. He said that the white hen it was with was not its mom. Curious, I asked how that could be. He said that the mom of my favorite chick had cracked its egg. Charles found it cracked, put it in a tin can, and somehow covered the can so that the ant would not get to the egg. Through his love and care this chick survived!

So now Charles has 3 hens and 10 chicks and I am so proud of him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It is better to give than to receive

During one of the many activities this summer, one of the teams brought the great opportunity for the Lulwanda children and staff to participate in being a blessing to the surrounding community. The project, Backpacks of Promise, is awesome. People in the States choose to bless those in Uganda by donating money and school items to then fill these backpacks with a variety of scholastic needs.

I love participating in Backpacks of Promise for many reasons.

     1) Reality: Our children are in a Home that is 100% funded through the donations of our sponsors and friends. Without the generous hands of those outside of LCH, then LCH would not function as it does. Therefore, LCH depends on others to bless us.

BUT: At the same time that LCH needs others to give to us, God allows us the opportunity to also give to our neighbors through various ways. Backpacks of Promise is one of these ways that the children and staff of LCH are able to be a blessing to the surrounding community and give to those in need.  Though we receive, we are also able to go out and be the hands and feet of Love.

Matthew 22:36-39 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

     2) Reality: There have been a number of LCH children who have requested school bags throughout the year. But seeing as our school is a stone’s throw away from the Home, schoolbags have not been a priority. Therefore, when all these beautiful backpacks from America were being filled, I imagine there was a bit of desire to keep these backpacks instead of giving them out.

     BUT: I shared with the LCH children before we began the day that it is better to give than to 
     receive. God has blessed us with so much, day after day, and it is good for us to go out and be a 
     blessing to others. Many of our LCH children would love to have kept the backpack they were 
     holding but I saw them joyfully give these bags away. (Little did they know that they too would be 
     receiving their very own backpack from a team coming later on in the summer).

Acts 20:35 “…remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

     3) Reality: The homes we visited during our walks into the village to deliver the Backpacks are very similar to the homes and situation that many of our LCH children came from. The poverty, the helplessness, the desperation- all part of their past.

BUT: The Lord, in His great mercy, saw each of the 108 children of LCH where they were. He chose them. He showed himself, in tangible ways that though they have no father or mother here on earth, He is their Heavenly Father and cares for them and loves them.  And he placed them in the family of Lulwanda. What a story of redemption He has already declared over their lives, and they are still only children. I can’t wait to see what else the Lord has in store for each of their lives.

Isaiah 63:16You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Solar Eclipse

On Sunday, we watched a rare hybrid solar eclipse. I joined one of the missionary families and lots of little Ugandan people. We made our way to the field behind Mt. Elgon Hotel. Fortunately, we had 2 pairs of solar glasses that we took turns viewing through. Unfortunately, the clouds were in the was a lot of the time. But fortunately, we had a soccer game going so we barely noticed. 

In case you wanted to know a bit more, I took this from Huffington post:

However, as pointed out by the renowned Belgian eclipse calculator, Jean Meeus, the hybrid eclipse of Nov. 3 will be a special case: here the eclipse starts out as annular, then after only 15-seconds it will transition to a total eclipse, and then it remains total up to the very end of the eclipse pathThe last time this happened was on Nov. 20, 1854 and the next such case after 2013 will occur on Oct. 17, 2172.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A whole different world... Karamoja

Throughout my time on the mission field, I have been asked many times, “How is Africa?” Sometimes I wonder if people realize how big Africa actually is and that I just live in a little country in East Africa. But recently I had the opportunity to travel and realized that though I live in Uganda, there are sub-cultures within the country that are so different than my norm it is like being in a totally different country. 

To the northeast of Mbale is a region called Karamoja. Known for being cattle raiders, the Karamojong have lived a nomadic lifestyle throughout their history, up to about 13 years ago. There is so much rich culture in this area.

Here were a few things that stuck out to me:

     1)  The Roads

Unbelievably bad. That is a true description. What should take about 2 hours took more than 3.5 hours due to the road conditions. 

When it rains the roads are just a muddy, slippery mess. Four wheel drive is a necessity.
We did not pass through just one car-eating-pothole, but at least half a dozen.

We also crossed this "bridge" that obviously didn't get the memo that bridges are meant to be OVER the river, not through it. 

2) The Culture

Uganda has many tribes. Each tribe is rich in history, culture, and uniqueness that defines them from other tribes in the country.

One of the unique facts about the Karamajong people is that they are a nomadic tribe that highly values cattle. In fact, up until about 15 years ago they were known (and feared) for the frequent armed cattle raids that could turn dangerous.  Since then, they have been disarmed, but cattle still remain a huge asset. Another fact is that it is just within the past 15 years they have began wearing clothes. Yep. Their birthday suits were totally the norm.

Now their cultural dress is beautiful and unique. The women typically wear skirts of mix and match material that are sewn together in a bunchy skirt. They adorn their necks with brightly colored necklaces. It is not uncommon for the men to only be wrapped in a blanket and carrying a shepherding stick and very small wooded stool. Many of the young men wore awesome knitted top hats of sorts with dangly silver earrings. And almost everyone was seen with the silver and black bracelets that are a typical branding of a Karamajong, where ever they live. 

The tribes in Mbale are all considered Bantu tribes.  But the tribe in Karamoja is much more closely related to the Masaai tribe in Kenya and their form of dress shows that.

Bright colors saturate the region. We had the chance to go shopping in the nearest town to buy material for skirts.

3) The Work God is doing through the mission team in Karamoja

I visited a mission team, consisting of 4 families and some singles, that live and work pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Having to stock up in Mbale with supplies and food, they make the most of what they have. It was such a blessing to get to see what they are doing and how the Lord is working through them. 

One of my first visits was to their clinic, run by a mzungu doctor, nurse, and volunteers, who work alongside their Ugandan staff. They offer quality medical care at a very low cost.

The clinic starts each morning with songs and a devotion time. 

Though not full in this photo, about 3 hours later it was packed full with many mothers and their babies.

Through their efforts they have also started a nursery school, training up not only the children but also the teachers in more effective learning/teaching methods. The teachers were very impressive and the children were so sweet. 

In addition to getting to see Karamoja, a friend and I were also able to bless the mission team by watching their children during the teachings of their team retreat. With a group of 15 kiddos walking around the village, we turned a few heads. They deemed themselves the MCA (Mzungu Children's Army).

We were able to sing a few songs for the children at the nursery school.

And my favorite ministry I was able to see….

4) Village evangelism and discipleship

Multiple times a week someone goes into one of the surrounding villages to share the gospel and other stories of the Bible. We were able to go to one village. Pictures speak a thousand words.

We had to cross a river to get there. 
Walking to the village I couldn't help but think of how scripture was coming to life through this verse:
Isaiah 52:7 "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to [Karamoja], "[The Lord Almighty] reigns!"
We also walked a good distance through the bush. At one point I thought to myself, "If I we weren't on this footpath, I would NOT think we were headed anywhere because I see NOTHING around me but the bush."

(And at this point- having crossed a river and walked on a small footpath in the middle of nowhere, in Africa-  this journey started looking quite similar to the start of my Tim Team's epic adventures in Cameroon.)

But after some distance, there was sight of life.

In Karamoja villages are surrounded by thorn bushes with just a little entrance.

And inside the thorn fence was this...

And these little people...

We gathered whoever was interested and shared God's Word under the tree. I was very impressed at the missionary, Pastor Dave, who taught the whole Bible lesson in the Karamajong language.  

What a beautiful place. May God continue to do a mighty work there, changing hearts from idols and false gods to the One true God and Savior, Jesus Christ.