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.