Thursday, August 29, 2013

It Can Be Done

Over the past four years, I have learned so much about missions. I'm continuing to learn and refine ideas every day, but my thoughts about missions have changed quite drastically over the course of my life and especially in recent years. I'm learning all the time about what it means to be "effective" and how to help without hurting (if I could recommend one book that everyone interested in learning more about missions should read, it would be this one).

Last weekend I got to witness an example of short-term missions done responsibly and very well. Our team leaders, Joel and Jill Skinner, have a deep commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ and are actively leading our team in that direction no matter what type of ministry we're individually involved in.

The Skinner's friends and sending church in Texas know this desire they have for making disciples who will, in turn, go out and make more disciples. Four men, close friends of Joel and Jill, recently came to Mbarara for one week. They had been working with the Skinners to plan a weekend discipleship conference for university students in Mbarara, and they came out to lead and run it. About sixty students attended the conference, which was held on the Skinner's compound. They developed curriculum for and taught sessions all about discipleship: what it means, why it's important, how it's Biblical, and what it practically looks like for us today.

This event was a perfect example of how short-term missions can be done well. These men came out under the authority and leadership of long-term missionaries that have an understanding of the culture and particular needs of the area and target population.
They came out to participate in and support our on-going ministry and goals.
They didn't come with their own agenda but to encourage the work that is already being done.
They came under the leadership of our team leader and continually referred the students back to them, knowing they are the ones who are committed to serving here long-term.
And because our team is church-centered, desiring to see the local, established church rise up to take our place, our team leader continually referred the students back to the local pastors attending and supporting the conference.

This entire process was a great example of how short-term missions can still be done in a way that genuinely helps, encourages, and supports without the many detrimental effects these short trips so often have on the long-term missionaries and local community. When those men left after their seven days here, they didn't leave a gaping hole to be filled.
They didn't leave the students hanging, excited about God's calling on their lives but with no where to turn for the next steps in obedience.
They didn't come and throw resources, money, and power around in the name of Jesus.
They didn't leave local people feeling more impoverished and helpless than before.

They did provide deep encouragement and friendship for our team leaders.
They did spur them on in the good work that they're committed to here.
They offered challenging, Biblical thoughts for the students and us to dwell on.
They pointed these students back to the local leaders for support and further teaching.
And most importantly, they pointed all of us back to Christ, the ultimate example of discipleship.

It is possible to do short-term missions well! And I'm thankful to the people who are willing to leave their families and comforts for a time to come serve and support those who have done the same.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Welcome to my flat! That's "apartment" for all us Americans. Since not all of you will be able to come visit during my time in Uganda (Ha! Who am I kidding... But seriously. You're all invited!), I thought I'd give you a little tour of my place that I'm learning to call home. 

I'm staying in a complex of twelve single-bedroom apartments occupied by a great mix of nationals and ex-pats. There are missionaries (of various varieties and religions), NGO workers, a Ugandan government official, a local Indian family, a Swiss couple, and some others who I have yet to meet. If you've lived in an apartment building before, then you know the many pros and cons of this type of living situation.

Cons: Though we have concrete walls and floors, you can hear everything that happens in the entire complex. And I mean everything. All the coming and going, the singing and radios, the flushing and washing, the crying babies and shouting laughter.

Pros: It feels safe to be on a compound with a day guard, a night guard, and so many other people. 
I don't have to worry about hiring someone to cut the grass or tend to the landscaping.
I don't have to remember to turn on and off the security lights each night (and pay for the extra electricity they use). 
Plus I have some great neighbors who are never more than a-walk-in-my-slippers away! It's easy to pop over to get advice; ask for help fixing my giant, sand-filled water filter (Thanks, Bron!); borrow some ginger or an egg; and share a meal with friends. 

My 2nd night in the flats, Bron, my Australian neighbor,
 invited us AIM ladies over for dinner.
 (unfortunately, Cheryl couldn't make it)

Okay! So I live in an apartment building. Onward.

Let's start with my favorite room! My bedroom is in the back right corner of the apartment. Unfortunately, it has little storage, so "hire a carpenter" is still on my to-do list.

This is the view from my bedroom's doorway: the bathroom sink area (with the bathroom to the left) and the kitchen.

My little kitchen area, complete with awkwardly high counters for a short person such as myself.

The view from my kitchen window.

Zooming out now... here is my kitchen again and part of the living area. The door on the right leads out to a small balcony where I can hang some laundry and where I'm attempting to grow some basil and jalapenos (read: pesto and salsa).

Now looking to the right... And just to the right of this desk is the front door. Actually, the only door.

Standing by the desk and looking into the back of the apartment....

... and looking into the living room area. Please try not to dwell on the fact that everything is beige. This was not by choice... trust me! I rolled the carpet out today and stood back in horror at so much beige. I almost rolled it right back up, wishing for my painted, green concrete floor again.  Hoping for a face-lift, soon.

How is your mental picture of my sweet, little place? Something like this?

Here's what you probably didn't picture as I was so careful to not get this junk in my photographs:
my clothes drying

a pile of stuff that I have yet to find places for

cleaning items and jerry cans for water
hidden behind my bathroom door

Now you've seen it all, but you're still always welcome to come see it for yourself!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Have a Look

Here is a map of Mbarara town. I have marked some important and fun places so you can try to get a feel for our little town.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to the Basics

I've been back in Mbarara for four nights now. Many people have asked, "Does it feel weird to be back?" Honestly, the only weird part is how normal everything feels. All the awkward, different, bizarre, and challenging aspects of life here feel familiar and typical.

For example, my first night back I stayed at our team leaders' house partially because they knew I'd appreciate a day to get re-acclimated and also because the water had been out at my apartment for a few days. Water frequently goes out, especially since we live on a hill, but this time it was a plumbing issue rather than a water supply issue. The plumber was working on it, but moving into a new place with no water would've been difficult. Fortunately, he was able to solve the problem, and I moved in the next day, making sure to have at least one jerrycan full of "emergency" water.

That evening, I was working hard at unpacking and attempting to sort piles of my belongings. At one point I thought to myself, "I should put kerosene in my lanterns just in case...because who can forget The Great Power Outage of 2011? " But everyone had assured me that power has been great lately, so I pressed on with unpacking. A short time later, the lights flickered and dimmed ominously. And there I was, standing in the pitch black with empty lanterns on the other side of the room. Ah, Umeme. Just like old times... Thankfully, I knew where my flashlight was and was able to get to it without much trouble.

Besides water and power outages, there are many other aspects of my very different life in Mbarara that surprise me at how normal they still feel. Such as...

Methods of transporting items: 
A man driving a boda with a coffin strapped to the back and a chicken on top.
And chickens tied in bundles and hung from bodas.

Notice anything interesting about this photo?

Oh, just some zebra grazing alongside the road.

Weather determines all plans:
Yesterday I went to town with a shopping list in hand and great intentions to be productive. Instead, it rained, and I got stuck at the very first store for hours waiting for the rain to stop. This is not the first or the last time this will happen.

Fortunately, I was trapped at the best possible store in town: Nakumatt! This Wal*Mart-like store opened shortly after I left Mbarara and is a huge addition to our tiny town. Huge as in school children come on class field trips to see it and people come ride the escalators for pure entertainment. After yesterday, though, I feel that I have thoroughly explored the store and now know that they sell everything from lamp shades to treadmills and cheese to charcoal jikos.

By the time the rain slowed down enough that bodas were driving again, it was time for our weekly team meeting. I crossed one thing off my list and decided to try again the next day. Such is life.

Bartering for goods (and flexible hours) (and a cash economy):
This afternoon, I set out with my list again, after deciding that it probably wasn't going to rain. I've been wanting to buy some pillows, so I stopped in a local store the other day to ask how much they cost. The man working that day told me they were 30,000 shillings each (about $12). I told him I was interested in buying two and asked if he could reduce the price. He readily agreed on 50,000 UGX for two, and I told him I'd come back to buy them after I finished my other shopping. When I tried to do so, the store was closed... probably for his lunch break.

I went back to the same store today, and a lady was working this time. I asked her how much one pillow was. "25,000," she told me. "Score!" I said in my head. I explained to her that I'd like to buy two and asked for a discount. She offered a total of 45k, I countered with 43k, and she agreed. After I paid, she realized that she didn't have the correct change to give me, so she went to the shop next door to get some smaller bills. Oh yes, she left the store completely empty, apart from myself, for several minutes. Again, this is very typical.

Basically, it feels like I never left. I cross the equator into the southern hemisphere, and my world gets turned upside-down. The unfamiliar is normal, and the unusual is typical. 

It's good to be back.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Defying Gravity

Our first week here at ABO, some of us were going on a short walk before dinner. During our walk, a local man stopped us and began chatting, asking many questions about where we're from, where we're going, what we're doing. After appropriately long introductions and an adequate amount of (awkward) small talk, he asked if we'd visited the place where "water runs uphill." Yes, that's right. He told us there is a place in Machakos where water runs uphill. 

Now I've never actually taken a physics course, but I'm pretty sure water naturally running uphill defies the laws of gravity. We were intrigued and asked where we could find this local attraction. He said, "Ask any driver. They will know the place." Obviously, we were anxious to see this phenomenon with our own eyes and made tentative plans to do so on one of our off-days.

Most days at ABO are packed with class, lectures, and the occasional ministry outing to learn more about local culture and customs. This doesn't leave much free time to rest or get off campus. Over the past ten days, we had one day off. And after spreading the word about "the uphill water," many of us knew how we wanted to spend our free morning!

We loaded up two big Land Cruisers with curious adults, excited and confused children, and jugs of water to see this mystery for ourselves. After about 15 minutes, we pulled over on the side of the road at a nondescript location. "Is this the spot? Are we in the right place? How will we know?," we asked. But within seconds, men appeared out of nowhere, and began running toward our vehicles holding large bottles of water. Yep, we were definitely in the right place.
walking up the hill

one of the vehicles parked below
 We piled out of the vehicles and followed the men up the road a little ways. They proudly and confidently explained that "this is the only place in the world where this happens." Someone refuted that statement saying that, actually, there is also a place in Canada where water can run uphill. "But you can't believe that one," the Kenyan man joked. "It's so cold in Canada, the water freezes as soon as you pour it!"

What happened next is hard to describe, and photos really don't do it justice (as you'll see). But I can now say I've seen it with my own eyes... The water really did run uphill! We poured it on the road, and rather than running down, it slowly but steadily trickled UP the hill.

What was maybe even more amazing than the water was when the vehicle rolled uphill, as well. Even loaded down with 10 people, when the Land Cruiser was put in neutral at the bottom of the hill, it slowly began to back up the hill with the driver touching nothing but the steering wheel!

I have no explanation for this amazing phenomenon. Some doubters among us said it's all an optical illusion...that the road looks like it's going uphill, but it's actually downhill. I think that's one thing you can clearly see even from the photos, though. We saw it and walked it, and that road was most certainly going uphill!

Others simply refused to believe on the basis on physics. The laws of gravity cannot be defied, therefore, even though I saw the water and vehicle go uphill, I don't believe it.

I certainly can't understand what happened there, and I know it's not normal, but most of us were happy to just accept the novelty! Call us easily amused or blatantly naive, but I'm okay taking what I saw and experienced at face value. Chalk it up to one of the many amazing and unexplained mysteries in this world (unless someone out there has an explanation for me... which I'd greatly appreciate!).

Regardless, it was a great way to take a break from our daily routine and see something so "famous" in the area!

Do you believe it?