Monday, April 30, 2012

Olympians of 2016

Last week, Mbarara was fortunate enough to be the host of the national primary school athletics competition. Schools from all over Uganda came to participate in many track and field events.

All week groups of children were walking around the outskirts of Mbarara town wearing matching t-shirts, carrying a wooden sign stating their district, and sometimes chanting or singing as they walked to and from the local stadium. They represented the best primary school athletes from all over the country.

Martha and I went down to watch for a bit on Thursday afternoon, and on Sunday afternoon we were joined by our friends Zillah, Sophie, and Justus to watch some of the finals.

Being in the stadium (a.k.a. large, relatively flat, grassy field with a small section of bleachers) with thousands of children and adults from all over Uganda was a very unique experience, and there were a few things that stood out to me about it.

After a few minutes of observing the races and taking in my surroundings, I was struck by the feeling that I wasn't in Mbarara anymore. Most of the competitors were from Northern Uganda where the tribes have a distinctly different look than they do in the Southwest of Uganda. Darker skin. Striking, stunning features. Long, lean bodies. Enthralling beauty! 

The second thing that really caught my attention was the sheer, God-given athletic ability of these children despite less-than-ideal circumstances.
The children wore some type of athletic wear (one-piece swimming suits included) if their school could supply them, but the majority of children were wearing a regular outfit: t-shirt or tank top with knit shorts or a skirt with leggings.
They were competing on a grass track that was turned into several inches of slick mud from all the rain during the week. 
And nearly all of them were competing without shoes. I saw one boy wearing tennis shoes, but they were about three sizes too big for him. Another boy was wearing jelly sandals with cardboard inside to absorb water.

Despite these conditions, I'm convinced that I was watching future Olympians! With the proper resources, these children could seriously be hanging out in Rio de Janeiro a few years from now. It was incredible to watch such natural ability!

"Sports Made in Uganda"

Children from the fishing villages on the islands were dominating the javelin throwing.

Boys ran the 5k in about 15 minutes.

A young girl jumped further in the long jump than any student this year at the elite university in Kampala.

Gulu district won both the girls' and boys' 14-16 year old 4x100-meter relay race with incredible times!

Girls: 54 seconds
Boys: 46 seconds

The current world record for the men's 4x100-meter relay was set in 2011 by Usain Bolt and the Jamaican team. It stands at 37.04 seconds. That means these children are already running just nine seconds above the world record at the age of 16. Barefoot. On a grass track. Wearing women's one-piece swimming suits.

Gulu district's victory lap

Attending this event was such an enjoyable experience, and I'm encouraged by these talented children... Their determination. Their perseverence. And their ability to overcome the odds.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rays of Sunshine

Meet my dear friend, Laura. She is an incredible woman who was so graciously and completely saved by the Lord over 20 years ago. She now lives to bring glory to her Father in heaven and to be obedient to Him alone.

Do you see that adorable, charming boy with her? That is another precious friend, James. He just turned one and is so blessed to have lived with Laura since he was 6 months old. By God's mercy, she literally saved his life.

Laura has a heart for the many, many abandoned babies in Uganda and has been doing foster care, even before it had this official title, for more than three decades. Besides raising her own five children, she has cared for and loved many other orphans as if they were her very own. At one point she had 15 children living in her home! 

She loves James with her whole heart, and who couldn't love his infectious giggle, sweet snuggles, and serious manner of babbling all sorts of knowledge to you? Laura dreams of caring for more babies in the near future and has told me many times "God has given me the vision, and he will give me provision." She trusts in God's timing and in His faithfulness to meet each and every one of our needs.

I feel honored and blessed beyond belief to have these two in my life! The first time I met Laura, I spent hours at her house chatting, playing with James, and sharing our lives and stories with each other. And do you know what I discovered? That my heart also lives inside this 60-something-year-old, Ugandan woman! We are so much alike in our desires and cares and hopes and dreams.
She is full of wisdom and incredible stories.
Full of grace and compassion.
A servant's heart that is overflowing with joy and determination.
And deep love.

I look forward to the times we sit together "talking about nothing and everything," as Laura says.
I look forward to the moment when James wakes up from his nap and comes toddling out of the bedroom with outstretched arms to be held.
When he sits to drink his milk but keeps one eye on me the whole time making sure I'm not going anywhere. When he laughs and laughs and then leans in with his entire body for a hug.
When she tells me about her life and experiences.
When she confides in me.

Those are the moments when my heart overflows with gratitude for the genuine friendships God provides, the mutual encouragement found in those relationships, and the hope for great changes in Uganda for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.

And for incredibly cute babies :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Interview with Dade

Name: Dade Michael Skinner
Age: 8...almost 9!

Described himself as... tough, happy, nice, handy, flexible, smart, funny, friendly

2nd grade self portraits

What do you love most about living in Uganda? Having my pets (3 dogs, 2 cats). I love them so much.

What do you miss most about the USA? My family. I like going to parks, and they watch me play.

What is your favorite place to go in Uganda? In Mbarara? My favorite place in Uganda is Queen Elizabeth. I like seeing the animals and going on the boat ride. The lions and elephants are my favorite. My favorite place to go in Mbarara is the waterfalls. There are rocks you can play on, and they're pretty to see.

What advice would you give to people coming to visit Uganda? Bring tennis shoes to run around in until your feet get tough like mine and Dara's. Also, expect bumpy roads.

What are your hobbies? Building forts, climbing trees, and playing outside.

What do you hope to be when you grow up? Maybe a construction worker because I love to build forts so much, so maybe it would be fun to build big buildings.

If you could create the perfect meal, what would it be? Cici's cheese pizza, bread sticks, Coldstone chocolate ice cream with brownies, chocolate milk, and hot chocolate.

What's your least favorite food? Vegetable stew.

What's it like to be homeschooled? Fun because I can be right there for lunch and with my family right when I'm done. And I don't have to be dropped off. I just go to my room.

How would you describe 2nd grade? Wonderful. I like to be learning more new things.

What's one thing you'd like to learn how to do? Learn how to make a giant fort that's as long as half of my room. Then my room would be half fort, half school room.

The important thing about Dade is... he's one of a kind.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Is This Real Life?

Last Tuesday, our team took a retreat day out at Kingfisher Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park. This little piece of heaven is only about an hour and a half northwest of Mbarara. The weather was perfect, we had the pool to ourselves, and the view was breath-takingly beautiful.

As I sat in a lounge chair gazing out at teammates laughing and splashing in the foreground set against a backdrop of elephants walking down below and the Rwenzori mountains in the skyline, I thought to myself...

"I can't believe I get to live here!"


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Picture This

I thought I'd give you a little taste of what my typical day looks like now. Today I took a photo (or two) every hour from 7am to 7pm. It might not be thrilling, but it's my life, and I'm so very blessed to live it in such a wonderful place!

Started a load of laundry while power was on

Left the house to walk to the Skinner's for school

Started school.
Coffee and this boy... What a great way to start the day!

Continuing with the core subjects

Chapter book read-aloud
Dade likes to listen from his bed.

Art: second grade self-portrait

Shopping with a friend.
New sandals and a visit to the Wednesday clothing market.

Home again with a welcome from Juno

Hung my laundry on the line in the afternoon sunshine

Checked email and spent forever waiting for web pages to load...
between African internet service and my old, old laptop I spend
a lot of time just waiting

Listened to a sermon

Ironed my laundry to avoid any chance of mango flies

Leftover rice and g-nut sauce.
Looks disgusting, tastes delicious!

Wrote some notes on banana fiber cards

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Time to Celebrate

Tonight I went to an incredible Easter production put on by one of the local churches here. The cast consisted mostly of university students, and for two hours I sat there on a hard, wooden pew in a totally packed out church with my jaw dropped in amazement. Choreographed dances...everything from lyrical to hip-hop, monologues, songs, comedy, cultural moments and jokes, entire passages of scripture memorized, and countless costume changes.

Honestly, I've never been to an Easter production that was so funny! Some of the comedy was intentional, and other moments were funny to me for other reasons, but there were so many times during the show that the audience burst out in raucous laughter, myself included. And it was interesting to me that throughout the entire show there was a constant, low murmur as people continued to talk with their friends and neighbors and comment on what was happening in the play. I don't think there was ever a moment of complete silence in the audience, but it made for a very relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere!

One of the most beautiful things to me about this production was the reminder of what the Kingdom of heaven will be like. The opening act of the show was an elaborate dance that showcased traditional dances from all over Uganda and even Rwanda. These young men and women were dancing and moving in ways that most of us can only dream of! They had so much talent and joy and were "preaching the gospel in a way that many of us can't," as the pastor of the church said. But one day, when our future hope of glory has been realized, we'll all dance perfectly before the throne of grace. We will eternally celebrate our great salvation and the perfect sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. Every tribe, tongue, and nation will join together in a song of worship to our King.

Tonight was just a glimpse of the eternal pleasures that wait for those who put their trust in Jesus as Savior. I pray that this joy and hope is real in your hearts as we reflect on the death and resurrection of the Messiah this week.

  But he was pierced for our transgressions;
  he was crushed for our iniquities;
 upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
  and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

I am the living one. I died, but look--I am alive forever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and the grave.
Revelation 1:18

...the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings
--and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.
Revelation 17:14