Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Very African Adventure (Part 2)

Just as we were paying for our second meal of the day at this restaurant, we finally saw the huge, red bus pull up to the petrol station. After so much waiting, I could hardly believe it! But sure enough we were ushered on to the back of the completely full bus, and six and a half hours after we began our adventure, we're finally on our way!

It took another six and a half hours to get to Kigali, including an hour crossing the border going through immigration, but we made it without further incident. I think the poor excuses for roads in Mbarara have been good conditioning for the drive to Kigali because we were driving over roads bumpy enough to send us flying out of our seats and shake our entire insides. The rocking from side to side was anything but soothing.

Uganda is the most beautiful place I've ever lived, and while it was still light out, I was perfectly content to stare out the window and enjoy the breathtaking view. In every direction were green, rolling hills, boys grazing their herds of cattle and goats, and I even saw quite a few crested cranes in the fields.

Everywhere you looked were clothes hung up on lines to dry, men and women working in fields and gardens, people relaxing in doorways and on bodas or listening to the radio while resting on piles or wood or bricks. There was also plenty of amusement to be had in reading the advertisements and signs along the way: "Flesh Milk," "Uncle & Friends Salon," and "Video Libraly."

We finally rolled into the bus station in Kigali around 11pm, about 8 hours later than planned. At that moment a new type of culture shock set in. If I didn't know any better, you could have easily fooled me into thinking that we were actually in an American city! Comparing Mbarara to Kigali is like comparing apples and oranges. It's really hard to do because they're extremely different.

Over the next two days I was completely enchanted and couldn't stop marvelling over the cleanliness and orderliness of the entire city. It was as if we'd jumped forward 30 or 40 years in development. Perfectly paved roads, not a piece of garbage in sight, traffic laws that were obeyed, stop lights and road signs, street lights, and perfectly landscaped traffic circles and green areas.
Instead of the bodas we're used to riding, which are all different and sometimes make me wonder if we're actually going to make it up a hill, the "motos" in Kigali are all standardized and the drivers are required to wear helmets as well as have a helmet for their passenger. Their one passenger. Not their passenger plus a few small children or their passenger plus a bundle of matooke and a mattress. Not their passenger and a suitcase or their passenger and a few chickens. One one person was allowed to ride on each moto, and they had to sit facing forward rather than sidesaddle as most women in Uganda ride.

Some of the highlights of our time there included:

drinking plenty of delicious coffee...

visiting the genocide memorial, reflecting on a not-so-distant and certainly not forgotten event, and contemplating the state of the world and the human heart...

spending time with the Gaskill family, who are serving with AIM, and learning more about their ministry serving at Kigali International Christian School (KICS)...

eating at a beautiful restuarant, aptly named Heaven, where they served us a free appetizer, brought us blankets, and served gourmet-quality food...

and visiting a market where we bought gorgeous fabrics. Walking around the fabric section of the market (Yes, a section. Our market in Mbarara doesn't have sections. Everyone sells everything.) was like experiencing a explosion after explosion of vibrant colors and fantastic patterns. Everything was beautiful, the people were friendly, and I was mesmerized.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful time of exploring a new city and another ministry AIM missionaries are involved with. We made it home in great time without any noteworthy incidents. As wonderful and enchanting as Kigali was, I was grateful to get back to Mbarara, our sweet and charming little town with so much character and friendly, familiar faces.

Like I said, apples and oranges are hard to compare. 

A Very African Adventure (Part 1)

I've come to learn to expect the unexpected in Africa. You simply can't get by without flexibility and a good sense of humor here!

For the past three days my housemates and I have been in Kigali, Rwanda to visit some other AIM missionaries, learn about their ministry in a Christian school there, and enjoy a quick vacation. I've been wanting to visit Rwanda for quite some time now, and it didn't disappoint! Breathtakingly picturesque landscapes, cleanliness and organization, world-renowned coffee, and blending into the crowd slightly more were just some of the high lights.

Traveling to Kigali was my first experience with the bus systems in Africa. It's by far the most affordable and most commonly used mode of transportation for international travel, so we decided to try it out. The Friday before we left, we went down to the booking agent to check the bus schedule for Monday. After quite a lot of cross-cultural miscommunication and misunderstandings, he told us that a bus would be coming through Mbarara at 9am on Monday and that we should arrive at 8:30 to check in and purchase tickets. We also found out that another bus company would be coming through at "10 or 11." We felt good having more than one option in case the first bus to come through was already full.

At 6:20 on Sunday morning, Martha received a phone call from the bus company representative saying that the Monday morning bus had been cancelled and there will only be a night bus. This didn't seem likely, so we did a little more investigating in the afternoon and was finally able to figure out that there would be a 1pm bus. Since this was a lot later than we were hoping to get on the road, we decided to try for the "10 or 11" bus with the other company.

We began our adventure on Monday morning in typical Ugandan style. Our faithful boda drivers came to pick us up along with our backpacks and one small suitcase that we shared between the three of us. It was already a chilly morning (68 degrees...I've become so acclimated to the cold!), but as soon as we stepped outside it began to drizzle. We couldn't wait out the rain as we'd usually do because we needed to get to the "bus stop" by 10am, so we piled ourselves and our belongings onto the bodas and set out. By the timer we reached the "bus stop" (a petrol station where it stops to refuel), we were quite damp but still excited to get on our way. After asking an attendant about the bus, we found out that it had already come through at 7 that morning. Okay. Plan B. Wait for the 1pm bus.

We purchased tickets for the next bus, which of course was not a quick process, but we were still left with over 2 hours before the bus was due to arrive. It was raining heavily by now, so we decided to head over to the Skinner's for a little while. Jill picked us and our belongings up, and we spent the next hour and a half hanging out with their family.

We got back to the "bus stop" around noon to be sure we didn't miss it. If only we knew... Fortunately, one of our favorite restaurants is right next door, so we ordered some lunch to-go, and kept an eye on the petrol station watching for our bus. While we waited, Kelsea, Martha, and I remembered we were heading to a French-speaking country and discussed what little French we knew. None of us have ever studied it, so between the three of us we knew buffet, ballet, fiance, s'il vous plaĆ®t, merci, cafe, and boudoir. Probably not the most useful vocabulary.

Our lunch came, but the bus hadn't arrived yet. After waiting awhile more, we decided to go ahead and eat. We finished, and the bus was still no where in sight although it was after 1pm. We kept reminded ourselves and each other that This Is Africa, and things almost never start "on time" or go as planned. We kept ourselves entertained by watching large groups of safari tourists come and go, inventing new games ("I would rather..."), and rewriting the words to "The Wheels On the Bus"  (the wheels on the bus go so slow, the people go waa, and the driver says shh).

By now it's 4pm, our bus is three hours late, and to top it all off we were starting to get hungry again, and because it takes over 5 hours to get to Kigali, we'd also been trying to avoid drinking much. We decide to order a plate of chips (fries) to share as a snack/dinner explaining to the waiter that as soon as the bus comes we'll have to leave. He graciously brings us a plate quickly, we pray thanking God for the food (again) and asking that the bus might come right when we finish eating.

(to be continued...)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Every day I see new examples of how Ugandans are incredibly resourceful people. Often I'm so impressed with how well and how creatively they use what they have to solve everyday problems. For example:
  • a matooke banana used as a stopper in the top of a jerry can so its contents don't splash out in transport
  • long strips of flexible bark used as shoe laces
  • old calendars covered in white paper reused to make flashcards in schools
  • umbrellas attached to bodas for the exceptionally sunny or rainy days
  • posho porridge can also be used as glue
  • plastic bags tied together with some string becomes a ball to kick around
  • using the heat of the sun to make bread rise faster
  • using a basin full of blankets to help a baby learn to sit up
  • banana leaves used for all types of cooking, steaming, and for covering pots
  • using newspaper as book covers
  • a rope with bottle caps attached at certain lengths to use for measuring
  • placing broken glass shards along the tops of walls as a form of security
  • reclining lounge chairs are built without a support system to hold the back up, but a rock or board wedged in the right spot can do the trick
  • using an empty jerry can as a drum
  • water bottles weighing down the bottom corners of a banner or poster

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Laughter is Good for the Soul

Laughter is such an important part of my days! When I'm not able to genuinely laugh on a regular basis I only feel half-alive, so I'm thankful to be living with girls I share so many jokes with, working alongside team members that provide endless entertainment and witty comments, and building relationships with people in the community who make me smile. Here are a few things that have proved to be extra funny in the past few weeks!

  • Teaching our Ugandan friends how to play kickball in our front yard. I'm pretty sure I spent more time doubled over laughing than anything else!
  • Having a dance party with some university girls in our living room. They taught us a muganda dance of the Baganda people and a traditional Banyankole dance about the Ankole cows, which are famous for coming from this area of Uganda. We taught them how to line dance and two step to country music.
  • Making up games at home with Martha and Kelsea. We invent hours of entertainment for ourselves, especially when power is out. "I hope Martha...."  "Would you rather...?"
  • Frequent cross-cultural miscommunication between team members. "Seb, are those new pants?" "Hey...That's inappropriate!"
  • Dade. He makes me laugh every day! "I think Obama would be please with this."  "Des Moines... Hmm.. That sounds like a really bouncy place. Des Moooiiiiinnne! Do they have a lot of trampolines there?"
  • Spontaneous dancing after team meeting. Cha-Cha Slide, Cupid Shuffle, Electric Slide...
  • Realizing that the boda drivers in Nkokenjeru know us by name and inform our boda drivers, Charles and Godwin, if they see us around town or walking on the road.
  • Sophie's endless antics, like making fake teeth from cassava peel and making crazy faces as she tells hilarious stories.
  • Calling teammates the instant power comes back on just to share the joy with more people
  • Joking that we should drive around and look at the Christmas lights in town, which would consist of only one teammate's apartment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

O, Come Let Us Adore Him

"Listen to the old, old story
Of the power of death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man"
-Andrew Peterson

Many people told me to expect homesickness during the holiday season and for culture shock to reach a new phase at this time of year, but I'm happy to say that I've been enjoying the Christmas season more than ever living in Uganda! This weekend my roommates, Kelsea and Martha, and I have been listening to Christmas music, decorated a tree, frosted sugar cookies, read the Christmas story in Luke chapters 1 and 2, and even went to the pool to soak up some sunshine!

Of course I am missing my family and our Christmas traditions and missing the extra time spent with my friends. I miss the sparkling beauty of a fresh snowfall (although don't miss the freezing temps, ice, and extra work that comes with a snow storm!). I miss the warm, crackling fire places and the twinkling lights and festive decorations around town. And I most certainly miss Caribou's peppermint mochas!

But without the typical overwhelming messages of consumerism coming at me from all directions and the rushed pace of life during the holiday season, I have been able to spend ample time reflecting on the story of Christmas. With all the distractions of shopping, parties, baking, and decorating aside, I can more clearly see the holiness of this holiday. I've been reminded of the weightiness of God's glory and the power in His plan. I marvel at how the birth of Christ has been foretold since the beginning of time and how generations passed on to generations the prophesies of a coming King until he made himself nothing and arrived in the flesh. The King of kings born in the lowest of places.The Creator of all coming to seek and save the lost. 

"...He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem."
Isaiah 53:2-3 

I stand in awe of the way that God set the heavens and earth in motion according to his perfect will and how Christ came to live among men at the fullness of time. At a time when the way had been prepared for him, countless prophesies could be fulfilled through His coming, and hearts were desperate and open to receiving the message of the Good News. 

I've also been considering Mary and Joseph in ways I never have before. What a humbled and selfless servant Mary was as she carried the Savior of the world in her womb and in her arms, yet she never took pride in the fact that God chose her to raise His son. A women full of grace.
"And Mary said:
'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.'"
Luke 1:46-49 

And noble Joseph, a model example of a husband who leads and protects his family at all costs. A man who set aside his own pride, humbled himself, and followed the Lord above all else.

Did Mary and Joseph feel the weight and hope of glory as they held their baby boy?
Did they feel as if He was really the one holding them?
Did they wonder how they were expected to teach and train up the Promised One?
Did their hearts magnify the Lord and wrench with pain at the same time when they recited Isaiah's prophesies of old and realized it was their child who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins?

I'm thankful for the opportunity to experience the holidays in a different country and culture and grateful that the message of the Gospel transcends culture and time. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full by entering into a saving relationship with him.

Let every heart prepare him room, and let every soul magnify the Lord!

"I celebrate the day
that you were born to die
so one day I could live
and pray for you to save my life."
-Relient K

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reverse Racism?

“Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day,
until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again.”
--Kathryn Stockett

Something that I've loved about my life in Uganda is the ample time I have for reading books. Because we're usually home by 5pm, rarely have plans after dark, and are often without electricity (read: computers), I've been able to fill hours of the week by immersing myself in all kinds of books. Fiction and nonfiction. Novels and theology.

I most recently finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a novel about the relationships between black and white women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's and how racism affected their lives.

“Write about what disturbs you,
particularly if it bothers no one else.”
 -Stockett, The Help 
Not only was this book an entertaining and humorous read, but it also dealt with many issues and mindsets that are interesting to reflect on in light of being here in Uganda. It provides a realistic reminder of our nation's ugly and not-so-distant past and a glimpse into what was done in our country, to humans created in the image of God, in the name of Christianity and equality. Reading about, reflecting on, and remembering this history stirs up something deep in me. Something that I usually sum up in 3 words: I hate racism.

I've talked about racism in a variety of contexts, heard sermons about it at my multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church in the Twin Cities, read books and took classes in college that discuss the issues surrounding it, but, honestly, my personal experiences with racism are few and far between. And they've always been on my terms and in a country or setting where I wasn't a minority.

Now I'm living in Uganda, where I'm an extreme minority, and I'm daily experiencing a type of reverse racism… for lack of a better term. The more people I talk to and the more places I go, "separate and not equal” seems to be a common mindset.
People are enthralled with whites because of our skin. No cut, bruise, freckle, or sunburn on my fair skin goes unnoticed here. We are treated differently because of our skin color. People often want to be friends with us, marry us, give us an unfair price, or have our business because we’re white. Because having a white person around is a type of status symbol, we are often invited to weddings and give-aways of complete strangers. We’re often placed on a pedestal and treated like we know everything because of our skin color or because we’re from America. We’re given special treatment and places of honor, but it's not flattering. It doesn’t make me feel special or honored. I still hate racism.

One day I had a boda boda driver ask me if I knew how to drive a boda. I laughed and told him no and that it seems like it might be hard to learn. He said, “Sure?! But Americans know everything.” I quickly tried to dissuade him of this opinion telling him that, no, in fact there are many, many things Americans don’t know. His response: “Well, you know all of the big, important things.” And that’s the problem… We all too often don’t know the big, important things. But people sure think we do (Americans included!).

Of course, I’m not trying to use this as a sweeping, blanket statement about how everyone treats white people here. That would be so far from the truth! We have met and become friends with some of the most genuine, kind-hearted people you’ll meet anywhere in the world. They accept us unconditionally and see beyond the exterior. They don't have any ulterior motives in the relationship, they want to learn from us as well as teach us, and they're a joy to pour into and receive from.

I guess what I’m experiencing and learning here is that racism isn’t skin deep. It’s a mindset. It’s a worldview. It’s cultural. Family culture. Community culture. National culture.

And all these issues don't necessarily boil down to racism, either. Often it goes wider and deeper into classism. In many places, discrimination now stems from socioeconomic status rather than skin pigmentation and ancestral lines. The haves versus the have-nots.

Rather than going around pointing out the differences between people in the world and how we live, what if we went around telling people, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important,” (Stockett, The Help) regardless of who they are, what shade of skin they have, or which side of town they're from?

Effrem Smith, an internationally recognized speaker and pastor dedicated to transformational racial reconcilation to change the face of the Church, has listed these ten ways to live as a reconciler:

1.) Don’t avoid conflict.
2.) Find biblical and prayerful approaches to anticipating and resolving conflict.
3.) Practice forgiveness daily.
4.) Embrace “dying to self” as a daily spiritual discipline.
5.) Find mentors of a different ethnicity, gender, and race.
6.) Acknowledge that we still live in a society influenced by issues of race, gender,  and class.
7.) Work towards a more missional and multi-ethnic church.
8.) Extend grace to those that you would normally extend judgement.
9.) Find space to experience God’s love daily.
10.) Listen more.

And in the words of Jesus Christ:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A few Sundays ago a preacher told this story:

Once there was a man selling mangoes. He stood on the street calling out, "Three for 1,000 shillings. Three for only 1,000!" Many people walked past him, but no one stopped to buy his mangoes.

After quite some time without selling any, the man stopped advertising. Instead, he picked up a large mango and began to slowly peel it. As the soft, orange flesh was revealed a heavenly aroma filled the air. He took a bite, and sweet, sticky juice began to run down his chin and drip from his fingers.

People began to notice how much the man was enjoying this mango and how good it looked. Before long, they stopped to buy some so that they, too, could enjoy such a wonderful treat.

It's the same in our relationships with Jesus. People don't want to see us selling salvation, they want to see us enjoying it! We can talk and try to convince people all day long, but until they see us living out and loving a saving relationship with our Savior, they won't believe us. There is something irresistible about a life transformed by and wholly devoted to the Lord and something compelling about a person who lives to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." 

" by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
James 2:17 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Speech Day

Today marked the end of the term and the end of the 2011 school year at Ruharo Infant School. The children have been preparing songs, rhymes, recitations, conversations, riddles, and skits for the past month in preparation for today: Speech Day.

A white tent and a variety of chairs and desks were set up in the school yard. Parents and family members happily gathered to watch the performances and celebrate another school year. Many of the songs, poems, and skits centered around the common themes of domestic violence, the importance of education (because you'll be able to get a job and be rich), and AIDS. If a child did an especially good job leading a song or in a performance, parents from the audience would go up to the child and press a small candy or coin into his or her hand in appreciation. There was one conversation about how boys can and should cook and help around the house, and needless to say, he got quite a bit of appreciation candy from the mothers in the audience!

I've been having fun teaching songs and rhymes in middle and top class, and I was thrilled to see how well the children performed them and the delightful response from parents. Top class sang, among many others, "The Birdie Song," "Alice the Camel," and "Bingo." Middle class performed "Where is Thumbkin," but by far the biggest hit was "Tooty Ta," a Dr. Jean classic.

Dr. Jean is an early childhood education celebrity, of sorts, and Tooty Ta is one her most loved and silliest songs! And clearly silly songs translate through culture quite effectively because the parents were in stitches watching the children perform this catchy and hilarious song and dance. Grace, the little girl who led the song, also walked away with two fistfuls of candy. The director of the school even requested a repeat performance toward the end of the program.

Sadly, my camera's battery died about half way through the program, so I wasn't able to get video or photos. But you can take my word for it... They were darling!

My role at Ruharo is going to look different in the coming months. The new school year will begin the first week in February, but I will not be taking an active role teaching in the classroom anymore. Instead, I plan to work one-on-one with the top class teacher. I desire to help her plan more effective and engaging lessons, implement new techniques for classroom management, set up routines and procedures in the classroom, and above all else, be an encouragement and support as I share the love of Christ with her.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving: Ugandan Style

Although we already had a Christmas program at church a few weeks ago, I feel that the holiday season has now officially begun! Celebrating Thanksgiving here with my new friends that have quickly become my family was a wonderful experience. Memories were made and laughter was abundant!

We started the celebrations on Wednesday afternoon with Dara and Dade. Kelsea and I made sure to finish lessons early so that we would have plenty of time to talk with the kids about why we celebrate Thanksgiving and do some crafts together. We made turkey cards, bracelets with colored beads that help retell the story of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, and turkey balls. I've been making turkey balls with my family on Thanksgiving ever since I can remember, and I was pleased to be able to continue the tradition even while in Uganda!

Because our team was celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday, Kelsea, Martha, and I decided to have our own family celebration at our house on Thursday. We kicked off the morning with homemade Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls and, of course, coffee.

We had also made some pumpkin muffins, chapatti, and turkey thank you cards for some of our Ugandan friends in the community (including the lady who works at the post office and gives us our packages. She is a very important person in our lives!), and we made sure they knew just how thankful we are for them!


After a slow and relaxing start to the morning, we continued with our cooking and baking. Stephen, a teammate of ours who wasn't able to attend the big gathering on Friday, came over to cook and celebrate with us. Between the four of us, we were able to prepare 7 dishes in only a few hours. We thoroughly enjoyed the feast, conversations, and after-dinner games, and it really felt like a holiday. I was truly thankful!

But the celebrations weren't over yet! Friday morning we were all up early and in the kitchen again preparing another 4 pans of stuffing and green bean casserole for the potluck party at the Skinner's house. Over 80 people attended the Thanksgiving celebration, and 7 countries were represented: Uganda, America, Northern Ireland, England, India, Australia, and the Netherlands.

After the meal, there were sack races and a "snow ball fight" (stocking balls filled with flour) which provided lots of entertainment for those involved as well as for those on the sidelines!

To wrap up the long weekend, some of the guys on our team put together a rugby match against a local secondary, boys' school. Saturday afternoon, quite a crowd gathered around the field at the school to watch and cheer the teams on. The Ugandan team definitely had skill, youth, and athleticism on their side, but for only practicing for half an hour before the game started and not figuring out some of the rules until the second half of the game, I was very impressed with how well our team did! The final score was 6-3, but it appeared that fun was had by all, and there were no (major) injuries. Yet another thing to be thankful for!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I've taken up a new hobby.


Sewing aprons to be exact. The abundant beautiful fabrics and a housemate with sewing skills and supplies has inspired me to spend some free time crafting up a few aprons! Ruffles, pockets, and all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Thankful For...

  • coffee
  • rainy days
  • a slower pace of life
  • incredibly supportive family and friends
  • snuggly and kissable babies
  • laughter
  • music and dancing with new friends
  • time to sit and study and soak in the Word
  • a deepening understanding of another culture
  • friends who I continue to share life with even though we're thousands of miles apart
  • Brother Justus
  • \our boda drivers
  • becoming a part of the Nkokonjeru community
  • an abundance of fresh produce year round
  • electricity and hot water
  • mail from home
  • dogs
  • an able and healthy body
  • the chance to live and redefine my dream
  • people who dream big
  • the ability to say no
  • sunny days
  • books you can't put down
  • grace and redemption
  • homemade meals and good recipes
  • a deepening understanding of missions and the world
  • traditions
  • a bed
  • white noise
  • the Internet
  • new friends
  • clean water
  • scenery that never ceases to amaze me
  • avocado trees in our yard
  • opportunities to teach
  • slippers
  • the hope of tomorrow

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Every Day is Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about more than the Pilgrims and the Indians.
It's about more than a delicious feast with hours of prep poured into it.
It's more than a holiday to celebrate with friends and family.
It's not a signal to start counting down the days until Christmas.

Thanksgiving is an action.

Thankfulness is a state of being, not a seasonal feeling. It is a framework of the mind and soul and spirit. Gratefulness should flow from our hearts every day, and it should permeate all that we say and do. Not because of anything we have or don't have but simply because of who God is.

We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to "give thanks in all circumstances." The command is not to be thankful for everything but to be thankful in everything.

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? 

When we give thanks to God continually, regardless of what we face or feel, we bring Him glory. And isn't this our chief end?

Oh give thanks to the the Lord, for He is good.

Not because we're happy and blessed.
Not because we're have more than we need.
Not because we have the life we've always dreamed of.

We give thanks because He is good. And he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Our thanks to God is our witness to His goodness throughout eternity.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Suddenly in Second

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm passionate about teaching kindergarten. It's my happy place! The perfect world between play-based early education and the more typical academic pursuits.

A couple weeks before I left the States, I was asked if I would be willing to help homeschool the 2nd grade son of our team leaders. Over the summer, God gave me a desire to be a blessing to the long-term missionaries in my time here, so even though it was never in my plans or desires to teach outside of Ugandan schools, I accepted right away. If it truly was a need and an opportunity to help Joel and Jill, I didn't want to miss out! And that's how I suddenly became a second grade teacher. A grade in which I never pictured myself.

Now meet Dade. He's my hilarious, energetic, and delightful student! He makes me laugh every day, and I'm honored to be a part of his education 3 days a week.

Because I only have one student, we're able to do plenty of fun and some-what elaborate projects that relate to our learning. For example, when I introduced map skills, he made an edible map of his compound.

After learning the names and locations of the continents and oceans, he made a paper mache globe.

After doing a shared writing experience together, Dade completed the writing process on his own and wrote a story about catching grasshoppers and the drama that ensued.

Although, this teaching opportunity came as a surprise, I am so thankful for the time that I spend with Dade! It's my hope and prayer that at the end of this year Dade has grown and developed not only in academic areas but also in his love for and understanding of God and the world.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tis the Season!

What do salsa dancing, cowboy hats, Toby Mac, the waltz, and miracle babies have in common?

The Christmas program at church, of course! And did I mention that this program took place on November 6th?

In the States, people don't really begin gearing up for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Here in Uganda, the Christmas season apparently begins much earlier! The church I regularly attend here in Mbarara just had their annual "Christmas Carols" program, and it was a very cultural experience to say the least! After 3 hours of videos, dances, guest speakers, a sermon, songs from the choir and Sunday school, and various other specials, we left, and they were still going strong!

I have been to many, many different types of Christmas services and celebrations before, but none have been quite as dynamic and unpredictable as this one. As my dear teammate Martha said, "If you weren't there to see it, you really can't understand it. Even if you were there, you can't understand it."

One thing was clear was the central theme of the program: God's love for us. The reverend's message focused on John 3:16. This is a Bible passage that many children first memorize in Sunday school and one that plays an important role in the message of the Gospel. The reverend pointed out that God's love, a love that is immeasurable, incomparable, and incomprehensible, is for the whole world. Yet this love that He has for us doesn't fall down over all people in the earth like rain, but rather, it requires a response and action on our part.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Every human, created and sustained by God alone, has to make a choice to accept or reject the Lord. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). He looks on us with deep and passionate love. We are his creation, and we are made in His image. We are created and live to magnify and glorify Him alone.

For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy.
Christ the Lord.

Just as there is nothing we can do to earn God's love for us, there is nothing we can do to lose God's love. All we must do is believe and accept that we can't do it on our own. That we need Someone who is infinitely stronger and greater than we. It is when our souls feels his worth and our hearts open to receive grace upon grace that we enter into a saving relationship with Him. A relationship that leads to eternal life!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare him room.

Despite the Christmas program, I don't feel like the Christmas season is here quite yet. I'm acutely aware, though, that the message of hope and fulfillment Christmas brings is not limited to a certain time of year. It's for anyone at anytime anywhere. It's never too early, or too late for that matter, to welcome Christ into your life and start living! Jesus came that you might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

A very merry (and very early) Christmas to you!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Assigning of the Call

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church . . .
Colossians 1:24

"We take our own spiritual consecration and try to make it into a call of God, but when we get right with Him He brushes all this aside. Then He gives us a tremendous, riveting pain to fasten our attention on something that we never even dreamed could be His call for us. And for one radiant, flashing moment we see His purpose, and we say, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

This call has nothing to do with personal sanctification, but with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us. We say, “If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way, then I wouldn’t object!” But when He uses someone we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, to crush us, then we object. Yet we must never try to choose the place of our own martyrdom. If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed—you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.

I wonder what finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you? Have you been as hard as a marble and escaped? If you are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you anyway, the wine produced would have been remarkably bitter. To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service. We have to be placed into God and brought into agreement with Him before we can be broken bread in His hands. Stay right with God and let Him do as He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children."
-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Isn't that just it? God is producing and creating something in me that is not for my own benefit. It's solely for his glory and his purposes. Am I willing to be broken and poured out so that his children might benefit and so that the lost might be found and the hurting might be helped? Above all else, my call is to die to myself daily so that I might live for Christ.

Oh Lord, make me worthy of this call.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Expect the Unexpected

You never know what each day will bring here.
Unusual is usual, and you should always expect the unexpected.

Last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally broke the glass in one of our lanterns while trying to fix the wick. Because our transformer had been taken down, yet again, we were without power, and I knew we were going to need that lantern in the evening. I had just arrived home from teaching at Ruharo when it happened, so I wasn’t eager to go back out. I wanted to get the errand over with though so that I could enjoy the rest of my afternoon off. It was another warm and sunny day, and I was looking forward to sitting outside and reading. I called my ever-loyal boda driver, Godwin, and he was at our gate to pick me up in less than 3 minutes.

Finding a safe and reliable boda driver was one of my goals from the moment we arrived in Mbarara. I was thrilled when I found Godwin a month or so ago. He’s the uncle to two darling girls who attend school at Ruharo, one of whom is in a class I currently teach. He faithfully drives them to school each morning, brings them lunch in the afternoon, and picks them up in the evening. Most days, he’ll pass me walking home after school and give me “a lift” back to our house on his way back to the boda stage.

 I explained my lantern situation to Godwin when he arrived at our house, to which he was very kindly sympathetic, and asked him to take me down to a market/shopping area near to where we live. He dropped me off at the entrance to the market, and I told him that I would try to be quick and meet him back there in a few minutes. After wandering up and down a couple aisles, I still hadn’t found what I needed. At that moment, Godwin appeared and asked if I needed help.  Of course, he was able to discuss with the shop keepers in Runyankole and found exactly what I needed in a very short amount of time. I was so grateful!

Soon we were on our way back home, but it was no longer warm and sunny. As is usual in the rainy season, dark clouds had appeared quickly, and it was beginning to sprinkle. We were less than 5 minutes away from home and figured we would make it before the rain without a problem. We were wrong. A minute later, the rain was coming down steadily. Godwin asked me if I wanted to proceed. I said yes and that I didn’t mind getting wet. Another minute passed, and it was now pouring. The rain was stinging my face as we dodged massive puddles. Godwin again asked if I wanted to proceed. We were coming up to the deserted boda stage, which is under a large tree, so I said that we should probably stop. He slowed down, and I figured that we would wait it out under the tree, but instead he pulled off to the left and into compound with many small houses across from the stage. He told me to go stand under the overhang of the roof while he parked his boda.

Godwin hustled over to join me under the shelter and informed me that his sister lived a few doors down. Her name was Gloria, and she is the mother of the girls who attend school at Ruharo. As if on cue, Gloria came out from around the corner and, with a big smile, motioned for us to come inside. It was at this point that I thought to myself, “Wow… this is not how I pictured my afternoon going, and this is not a situation I ever thought I would find myself in.” I was thrilled, though, at the opportunity to meet a close relative of Godwin’s who also happened to be the mother of one of my students! I’ve admired the little houses on this charming compound for quite some time, but I never imagined that I would get to go inside one! It was all very unexpected and exciting.

For the next forty-five minutes as the rain continued to pour, Gloria, Godwin, and I had a delightful and lively conversation about everything from Runyankole, to April Fool’s day, to how surprised Gloria’s children would be that evening when they found out that their teacher had visited their home! As I sat on their couch, soaking wet and slightly chilly, in the small front sitting room with my boda driver and his sister, I thought to myself “There is nowhere else I’d rather be this afternoon.”

These are the moments that I truly cherish. The unexpected blessings. The mundane tasks that turn into something beautifully meaningful. The relationships built and the hearts behind the faces. The laughter shared and realizing that you have a friend in someone who was just an acquaintance a few weeks ago. A turn of events, orchestrated only by God, that lead to open doors and opportunities to show love to those in our community.

There are the moments that I hold in my heart.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

News, News

This is my second week teaching at Ruharo on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the middle class, which has 34 four year olds, and top class, which has 47 five - seven year olds. Each day it gets a little easier, a little better, and a little more manageable. The children are beginning to understand me more clearly, and they are learning some of my behavior expectations. It has been great to introduce many new ideas, activities, and methods of teaching and learning into the classroom. It's helping to keep the students engaged and on-task as well as modeling different and effective teaching practices for the teachers I'm working with.

top classroom

It has been interesting to see how the teachers perceive their students' abilities and what skills they have actually mastered. It's common here for teachers to say that the children know how to read. What I've found, though, is that the children have memorized a list of words that are written and repeated over and over (mat, sun, van, etc.). These words have become sight words to the children, but they don't have any concept of letter sounds, therefore, "sounding out a word" is a totally foreign concept to them. Literally. 

In middle class, I've decided to bring it back to the basics and emphasize letter-sound correspondence in my literacy lessons. After just two weeks, I can already see improvements in many of the children. I hear them humming the songs I've taught them as they do their work, and their memory from week to week is serving them well! I'm hoping that by the end of the term in December we will be able to sound out some simple words.

Literature is never utilized in early childhood and primary education here, so it has been my joy to introduce some stories to the classes. A humorous, completely cross-cultural, and staple book in early childhood education is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Not only do the children get to practice upper- and lower-case letters and their sounds in this story, they also enjoy chanting the refrain "Chicka chicka boom boom!" throughout the story.

In middle class, we're also working on recognizing numerals, understanding one-to-one correspondence, and counting backward from 10. One of my college professors donated a large bag of Wikisticks, reuseable and pliable wax sticks, and they were perfect for practicing numbers! The children loved using this new material, and I'm excited to use them for more lessons. 

Each morning these classes starting with sharing "news." I haven't figured out the purpose or benefit of this daily routine, but it goes like this: A child or teacher come up to the front of the room and says, "News, news." The class responds, "Tell us (insert name)." "On my way to school today, I saw a big, big (fill in the blank)." Sometimes variety is added by saying "a good, good..." or "a beautiful, beautiful..." Then the class repeats what that person said.

I'm not a fan of this daily routine, but let me borrow from the format and tell you the good, good things I saw on my way home from school this afternoon.

On my way home from school this afternoon, I saw a small group of children collecting termites from the road. I stopped to watch and asked them what they were going to do with them. "Eat them!" they responded enthusiastically. It was lunch time after all!

On my way home from school this afternoon, I saw a small toddler playing a wonderful game with a large calf. The calf was tied in a field to graze. The child walked just within reach of the cow's head, the cow would gently butt the child, and the child would fall over. This process was repeated over and over. Satisfying!

Please continue to pray for wisdom as I plan lessons for these classes and build relationships with the teachers and children. Pray that above all else, Christ will be glorified and His kingdom will be furthered at Ruharo Infant School, in Mbarara, and in all of Uganda.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dream Differed (with apologies to Langston Hughes)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. My dream is different now.

In the past month, I’ve been struck time and time again with the realization that the dream I’ve so carefully and passionately held in my heart for the past 3 and a half years is changing drastically. What I thought God was calling me to all along stands in stark contrast to the reality that has been set before me here in Mbarara.

I’ve humbly learned that no matter how large your skill set or how qualified you may be, culture runs deep, and traditions are strong. Habits that have been passed down from generation to generation have created mindsets and beliefs that are not easily replaced. They have affected Ugandans to the core of their being and dictate their beliefs on how they think they are created to live and learn.

Only Christ can redeem what has been lost and forgotten along the way. 

I came out here with plans and dreams and hopes for the Ugandan schools. After spending a significant amount of time observing in a typical Ugandan primary school, I set those ambitions aside realizing that they’re not realistic. Not only because of time constraints and cultural barriers but also because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing good in me apart from Christ.

I can have the best intentions and the greatest ideas, but if I act out of my own desires rather than with the sole purpose of bringing glory to God, then it’s all for nothing. Any plans that I came out here with have been stripped away. God is in the process of replacing those dreams with something different. Something better. Something bigger. But I have no idea what that means yet.

I have no doubt in mind that the dream I held on to for all these years was indeed from the Lord. He was the one to give me a reason to live for something bigger than myself. For something that involves fulfilling the Great Commission. He is the one who challenged me to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless and compelled me to bind up the broken hearted. For those reasons I am here, but I’m also here for reasons I don’t know yet.

What I do know is that God is taking me on an amazing journey this year that involves delving into his Word, seeking wisdom and truth for myself, and striving for obedience to God’s purposes in my life whatever they might be. Anything positive that comes out of my time here, any small difference that I can make in the lives of one or many people, any act love and compassion that points others to Christ and brings glory to his name... They only happen by the grace of God and by his Spirit that is at work in me.

I’m already 2 and a half months into my time here, and I feel like I actually have less of an idea of what I’m supposed to be doing here than when I first arrived. Fortunately, time is nothing to God. When he chooses to give me clarity and peace about my ministries and about the time I spend here is a matter of God’s sovereignty. And in the end all that really matters is “I AM THAT I AM has sent me” (Ex. 3:14). I am here, and He will do the rest.

It may be unfulfilled. It may be unrestored.
But when anything that's shattered is laid before the Lord,
 just watch and see,
it will not be unredeemed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Core Values

I want to take a moment to share a bit more about our team and what we are striving for as we all serve here in Mbarara.
Currently, our team is made up of 9 (soon to be 10) adults from the US, England, and Northern Ireland. Some lead Bible studies for university students, others teach in secondary and primary schools, some focus on discipling and pouring into the lives of young Ugandans, one teammate is a physiotherapist in the hospital, and others are involved in teaching better farming techniques and agriculture skills. Although we are all serving in very different areas of ministry all over the city and surrounding areas, each of us is striving toward the fulfillment of the same vision and goal.

Our team vision statement is this:
“Christ-centered churches planting and building Christ-centered churches with a focus on discipleship unto missions.”
We are working with Christ-centered churches to help them plant and/or build up Christ-centered churches. In that, we focus on discipleship with an aim for indigenous missions – raising and sending out missionaries into the community and into the world!

Our team also has five core values that are taken into consideration in every ministry and in every person that is recruited for the Mbarara team.
  • Church-Centered: Serving and supporting the leadership of the local church and functioning as a part of the Body of Christ.
  • Discipleship: Developing knowledge, character, and skills in the lives of those we disciple.
  • Grace-Centered: Recognizing redemption through the work of Christ in our words and actions.
  • Indigenous Missions: Casting a vision for and creating church sent missionaries to plant Christ-centered churches.
  • Transformational Development: Creating sustainable and reproducible, holistic ministries by being lifelong learners and servant leaders. 
Only God would think to bring together the people on our team! We all come from unique backgrounds and have a wide variety of skills sets, talents, and passions. I'm grateful to be part of a team that upholds such God-glorifying standards in ministry here, and I'm honored to be working alongside others who are committed to seeing God's Kingdom come and His will done in Uganda!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Name is Nimusiima

 Proper names are poetry in the raw.  Like all poetry they are untranslatable. 
 - W.H. Auden
Words have meaning and names have power. 
My name is Nimusiima. It means "I am thankful."

This is the African name given to me by my friend, Sophie. I think it's beautiful, and I think that people tend live up to their name and their name's meaning whether they realize it or not.

If names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things. 
- Confucius

Nimusiima. I certainly am thankful to God and deeply grateful for all that He's done in my life. A lesson I was learning this summer is that thankfulness always preceeds the miracle. A heart of gratitude bowed before the Lord is essential in seeing the miraculous works of God.

Although this name was just given to me, I am thankful. And now that it's my name, I pray that thankfulness will become a part of who I always am. I so desire to live up to this name!

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
Psalms 9:1