(I acknoweldege that this is a very long post and might be for my own benefit and memory, but there are some photos that I know you will enjoy if you don’t get through all the words. Either way, thank you for praying me (and my kiddos and community) through this transition period.)
PART ONE: AROUND LCH
Oh such fond memories… some sad, most full of laughter, and all full of love. I couldn’t have planned my last month(ish) in Uganda any better. I am so thankful for the Lord’s kindness to know just what I needed to end this treasured chapter of my life well (for everyone’s heart involved).
I knew I wanted to have one last holiday with the children, were the older students are home from boarding school and all the children are out of class. I love holidays because they allow time for a lot of fun, activities, and experiences to be had. We had all of our normal activities, including Bible study and special classes twice a week, but I also had some shining moments.
This holiday I spent the night a number of times at Lulwanda, sleeping in the top bunk in the girls’ dorm. It was so sweet to come into their room in the evening and see how they had made the bed up (rolling the blanket and arranging the sheets in a special design) and I always had a note or little gift left on my pillow or hanging above “my bed.” Since I was spending the night there I got to experience some of the things that happen in the evening hours. One great blessing was the evening fellowships, lead and taught by the children. It was beautiful seeing some children take this leadership role and lead their peers, whether in worship, prayer, preaching, or MCing the event. Joseph usually taught with Davis as the scripture reader and the girls leading beautiful worship melodies. But even one evening Marion shared, a preacher at the mere age of eight. We have future leaders in the Kingdom rising up!!
As my parting gift, I bought a popcorn maker (like the ones at a movie theater) for LCH. After supper children would start making popcorn while others set up the projector and sheet for movies under the stars. It was a fun time. The little ones enjoyed it so much that they started asking me in anticipation everyday, “Teacha, are you sleeping here tonight?!”
Once curfew rolled around, though everyone went to their dorms, you can imagine it being a bit like summer camp with so many girls in one space. Silliness was had as the little ones would shout my name and then run and hide under the beds for me to find them. The older girls enjoyed selecting songs on my phone and painting their nails or making friendship bracelets. It was one big slumber party and so much fun.
Many afternoons during I took the kids on a “hike”. Well the first time it really was intended to be just a hike, but after we found ourselves at the nearby river, the expectation was set that hiking really meant swimming in Manafwa River. Around 4pm, after everyone’s activities and assignments had been completed, I would shout, “Five minutes until we leave for hiking” and kids would come running to the gate. We did actually hike about 20 minutes down to the river, where we had found a place that was shallow enough for everyone to stand and had a bit of a current that allowed for the older ones to “swim”(aka flail) in the river as the current took them. Some were brave enough to jump off the ledge on the other side of the river. Others collected the smooth black river stones to take back to Lulwanda to paint. And many of the younger ones were thrilled to cover themselves head to toe in the soft swampy mud. There was never a silent moment or a sad face when we were at the river. These children LOVE “swimming”! One day James said to me as we were walking, “Teacha, I am going to see my grandmother. She has been missing me.” A bit confused I looked at him and he declared, “I am a mudfish returning home!” Ha. (Thank you, Lord, for your protection of my “swimmers”!)
I have mentioned before on my blog about a sweet little Jaja (grandmother) who we have occasionally visited to help cook, clean, and fetch water for. Well she has adopted me and the Lulwanda children as hers and loves when we visit. But it blesses my heart more to hear the children asking when we are going to visit and help her. They are eager to do any work that she suggests, especially carrying the 20 liter jerry-cans full of water (that are super heavy!). We were able to visit her a number of times before I left. And every time she never fails to tell us that we have loved her with Jesus’ love and that even when we are not there, she is never alone because she is with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
|A time of worship and prayer with our Jaja.|
|Helping to clean the compound.|
|Off to fetch water at the boar hole.|
|Cooking lunch in the outside kitchen.|
|Ready to serve lunch: meat, rice, cabbage, and soda.|
But definitely the highlight of my “going away events” was the farewell party that they planned for me. You have to remember that part of my job was planning and executing all the major parties and events at LCH- so it was a very weird feeling to be at LCH that day and see everyone busy preparing for the event but to have absolutely no responsibility in it. I didn’t really know what to do with myself but was able to gather a group of children and play farkle dice and some other games. My heart was blessed as I pulled up to LCH that day and saw so many of the staff busy at work under the veranda of the kitchen. Even the men were busy at work rolling out chappati and preparing the chicken (remember we don’t have an HEB to buy a frozen chicken).
There were a few highlights from that day that are etched in my brain:
1) I knew that the event was happening that day and I had thought to myself that I wished at least one of my two photographer friends could be there that day, but since it wasn’t an event I was planning I didn’t act on that wish. The morning of the event I kind of regretted not asking one of them, but oh well. Too late now. As I was driving out to LCH I saw a mzungu man that resembled John Palmer on the back of a boda. I was confused why John would be on a boda and why he didn’t call if he needed a ride, so as I stared while passing the boda and realized it wasn’t John but a different mzungu guy and a mzungu girl. I then realized it was my photographer friend, Hannah. Since we were at a spot way beyond town, I assumed (rightly) they were headed to LCH and pulled over. Once in the car I asked if John had invited them out for the event today. They replied that he had not but this was one of the days they had free and had just asked it was ok to visit. They had no idea that today was such a special day- BUT my Father knew exactly and my heart was beyond blessed with this specific way He loved me because I now have some awesomely beautiful photos of my farewell party. (Thank you so much, Hannah, for these treasures!)
2) While all the preparations were happening, my dear friend Betty approached me and led me to the administrator’s house. She explained that every staff member had contributed towards buying me a gift and I needed to select one. As I entered one of the rooms there were three beautiful party dresses (think prom style), a pile of fancy shoes, some jewelry and a purse to choose from. I tried on all of the dresses and landed on a really beautiful, fluffy, red dress. Wow. SO fun!!
3) That day I had no idea that I would be receiving the party dress so I had dressed smart for the day (in my own clothes). After lunch, as people were starting to gather to begin the party, I went to change into the dress the staff had bought me. I totally felt like Cinderella going to the ball. The best part was that none of the children knew about my outfit change. Everyone was gathered in the main hall as they announced the arrival of their “mugole”(bride or guest of honor). In I walked, in my princess dress, with high heals on (this is Uganda, I have rarely worn heals here!), looking super smart and the cheers and African “Ayeyeyeyeye!” started. At first I felt a bit shy but by the middle of the main hall I embraced the moment and gave them a spin as I continued to my designated seat. It was very special and I felt very beautiful.
4) One of the many things I have learned during my time in Uganda is to always be ready to teach, encourage, or give a speech during a function because it is very likely I will be called on. So, I came this day prepared with a speech I had typed out before, in hopes that if I read my word (rather than giving a speech just from my heart) then I might be able to stay a bit more composed and without tears. Well I wasn’t successful in not crying but I was able to speak clear enough to be understood. I treasure the ending of my speech to the staff and children: “It is too hard to sum up all of my thoughts, feelings, and appreciation into one speech. My going is not easy. I have cried many tears. But I am so grateful that these tears are because of love. I love each of you, SO SO MUCH. And I am forever grateful for your love for me. Thank you for making Uganda, and especially Lulwanda, home for me. I am beyond blessed to know each of you. My mother used to tell me and my sister, “I love you bigger than the world.” I now understand how much that is. And so I will end by saying the same, “I love you bigger than the world!”
5) There were many beautiful words, poems and songs, great presentations and speeches, and treasured gifts given. But the most special moment was when Naster and Allen presented me a bouquet of roses. Naster explained that the one white rose in the middle represented me and that the color pink represents love and all the pink roses represented all the children’s love that surrounds me.
5) After all was said and done and many photos were taken the event turned into a fun dance party. And I love dancing!!
(Funny side note story- so I wouldn’t say I am great at dancing or promise that I always keep a beat, but I have my own style. Throughout the years the kids have laughed at me or tried to mimic my free style moves. During holiday I was with some of the Tendo girls at the Palmer’s house playing Just Dance on the PlayStation (where you try to follow the moves on the screen). During one song one of the Tendo girls made the comment, “These are Teacha Nat’s moves!” HA. I leave behind a dancing legacy).