Monday, December 22, 2014

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Recently, my teammate, Emily, and I went to visit one of our friends outside of Mbarara. Rebecca is a Peace Corps volunteer I met at church, and she's been working with a primary school ten miles outside of town. It took Emily and I thirty minutes by boda to reach her location, but it was a beautiful day, and the sights never get old.

We toured Rebecca's school and sampled from her strawberry patch. Can you imagine my sheer delight in eating a fresh strawberry after 17 months without? But who's counting, right? Because it was such a beautiful day, we decided to hike up some hills near Rebecca's school. Hills... Yes, they are considered hills, but when I told my boda driver what we did, he said incredulously, "What? Those mountains there??" And compared to what we typically have in Iowa, they were kind of big hills.

In the aerial photo below, those little green buildings in the top right corner are on the campus where Rebecca is living. The big empty space curving across the middle is the set of hills we hiked. We started on the far left and made our way across the ridge back toward the campus.

The first hill was a doozy. It's affectionately been named Puke Hill (by us) because when Rebecca took her mom and sister up this hill, her mom thought she was going to vomit from the altitude and exertion. Fortunately, there was a perfect outcrop of rocks halfway up, so we stopped for a few minutes to admire the view (and catch our breath). 

The second half was so steep it required climbing with both hands. Once we reached the top and looked back.... Wow! There's no question as to why Uganda is nicknamed "The Pearl of Africa." 

Emily almost to the top

taking this photo required wedging my camera
between the split trunk of a tree

We continued climbing a little higher to reach the ridge, and on our way we discovered we weren't alone up there. 

We stopped about halfway across to enjoy a little picnic of M&Ms and water (Thanks for sharing your care package treats, Rebecca!) and admire the view some more. Because this view necessitates lingering a little longer.

Maybe because it's Christmastime, and maybe because this time of year causes me to reflect on all that's happened over the past 12 months... I find myself marveling at the fact that I live here. In Uganda. To be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure how that happened. All I can say is that God's ways are higher and better than my own. I make plans in my heart, but it's always God's purposes that prevail.

While I still have days when I wonder what exactly I'm doing here and why God thought I was the best person to do it, I also have moments of clarity. Sometimes the moments come when I'm chatting with a friend in her home. Sometimes they come when I'm buying produce from my favorite person in the market. And sometimes they come when I'm standing on top of a hill taking in sweeping panoramas.

My mission is quite simple really.
My mission is also your mission.
Go, and tell it. Over the hills and everywhere. 
"Jesus Christ is born" and "God sent us salvation."
And make disciples.

This looks different for each  person based on their giftings and areas of influence, but the task itself is quite simple:
Go, tell it.

How beautiful on the mountains 
are the feet of those who bring good news, 
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, 
who proclaim salvation, 
who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Isaiah 52:7

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Give Away

No, not that kind of giveaway.

Sorry, this blog doesn't have any sponsors, so I can't raffle off a KitchenAid Mixer or a Nikon DSLR. (If anyone who represents KitchenAid or Nikon is reading this, feel free to contact me!... Hey, you just never know...)

While I can't give you any prizes, I can show you photos of a traditional Banyankole wedding ceremony! This ceremony is known as a "give away," since the bride is being given to the groom's family, and I had the pleasure of attending a friend's give away a few months ago.

The give away was held in the village on her family's small plot of land. Two white tents were set up facing each other on opposite ends of the compound. One tent is for guests attending the celebration and the other is for the groom and his relatives.

seated in the guest tent looking across at the groom's tent

guests and relatives of the bride

The whole event is led by a Master of Ceremonies who narrates the entire day over the (very loud) loud speakers.

Clusters of drinks are used as decorations until they are offered as after-lunch refreshments later on in the ceremony.

The bride, her "maids," and some of the aunties remained in the house (pictured behind the emcee) for the meal and first half of the ceremony.

The groom and his relatives are escorted on to the compound and to their seats (they were waiting and having lunch at a neighbors house until it was time for their entrance).

They are served a special drink called obushera, which is made from fermented millet flour.

Next a representative from the groom's side of the family steps forward to talk with the emcee, who speaks on the bride's family's behalf. The groom's representative must answer a number of questions. While this conversation took place in Runyankole, it was clearly a battle of wits and cultural tongue-twisting between representatives of the two sides. 

It becomes a big show of pretending the girl’s family doesn’t know why the man’s family has come and needing to be convinced to allow the girl to marry him. They emcee said things like, "What are you doing here? We're all just here trying to enjoy a party, so why have you come bother us today? What village are you from? Who are your people?"

The groom's spokesperson must prove he comes with purpose and the appropriate gifts for the bride's family. The men from both families retreat into the house for awhile to "discuss" a fair bride price. Once they come out, after having made a decision (which, in reality, has been discussed ahead of time), the groom's family brings in gifts for the bride's family. Here they have a basket of fruit, a box of soap, crates of soda, and a bag of sugar. The girl's family is asked if they will accept the gifts in exchange for bride-to-be, and after sending someone to make sure the gifts are good (not poisoned, etc.), they agree to the request.

The groom is identified from the group and given a seat of honor within the tent.
Next the bride must be identified from among all the other "maids" within the wedding party. For the first time in the day, they begin to come out from the house. They are led out in groups, dance by the groom's tent, and then kneel in front of the groom. He says that the one he wants to marry is not among these girls, gives them some small money to pay for their transportation back home, and sends them away.This happens three different times.

Finally, the all the girls come out at once, and this time the bride is among them. They dance around for awhile before kneeling all together. 

The groom says his bride is there, and one of his aunts brings a gift out to the girls. She will select the bride by giving her the gift, so she dances around pretending to give the gift to a girl or two before finally giving it to the bride. There is lots of clapping and cheering, and the bride goes to meet the groom. Together they walk over to the bride's family, escorted by the bride's auntie.

thumbs up...the aunt approves!

The bride must make a speech to her family and let them know that this is the man she wants to marry. Her family approves, and then the bride and groom walk back to sit together with the groom's family.

Rings are exchanged, and according to the custom, they're now married!

The bride changes into another dress, and the whole wedding party dance around the cake, which has a prominent place in the center of the compound. The bride's eldest brother comes to join her at this point. Because the daughters of the family have the responsibility of caring for their parents and brothers, it is the brother who the bride belongs to. When she gets married, she no longer belongs to her brother, so he is the one to give her away. It is the bride and her brother who cut the cake together, and feed each other small pieces of it... not the bride and groom. 

Once the cake is cut, the bride and her maids pass out small pieces to everyone.

After six hours, the sun was beginning to set, but the speeches were just beginning. This is when we made our exit. It was a full day of celebration, and I was so honored to be a part of it!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanks Giving

I'm thankful when I'm sweeping up dirt and sand from the floors of my apartment for the fourth time this week
because it means there has been plenty of coming and going.

I'm thankful when, one by one, all my plans for the day get canceled
because it means I have an opportunity to practice flexibility.

I'm thankful when power goes out
because it means I have power in the first place.

I'm thankful when I'm walking around town on the hot, sweaty days
because it means I am healthy enough to do so.

I'm thankful when it's cool and rainy, even on laundry day,
because it means people's crops are growing and they won't go hungry this season.

I'm thankful when I have to call our landlord for the fifth time this week because my water keeps going out
because it means I have a landlord who cares to help.

I'm thankful when I have a pile of dirty dishes to wash
because it means I have more than enough food and beautiful community to share with.

I'm thankful when I can sit on the floor and cry with a friend whose heart is breaking
because it means our friendship is genuine.

I'm thankful when I'm wiping up baby pee from the living room floor
because it means I'm graced with the presence of babies and mamas in my home.

I'm thankful when I'm trekking up and down the hills of Mbarara
because it means there are people I'm on my way to see.

I'm thankful when my backside goes numb from sitting at church for hours on end
because it means God called me to a place where we can worship freely and openly.

I'm thankful when my clothes are all stretched out and faded
because it means someone is helping with the hand-washing.

I'm thankful when my cooking gas runs out in the middle of baking
because it means I can give my boda driver some more business.


Saturday, November 22, 2014


On Sunday, we celebrated one year of life for Abrielle and Sofy.

Abrielle's birthday was on November 5th, and Sofy's is on December 17th. Ruth is moving soon, and we wanted a chance to celebrate together. So we did! What's better than celebrating one baby? Celebrating two, of course!

Sofia: then and now

Abrielle: then and now

We gathered for a little birthday party.

We ate snacks. Pineapple, watermelon, hard boiled eggs, popcorn, groundnuts, samosas, and lemonade.

We sang and enjoyed a gorgeous cake (made by my teammate, Emily, who owned a cake business back home).

We opened presents.

We delighted in friendship and laughter.

We celebrated the lives of these two darling girls and thanked God for his goodness and protection over them.

But really I want to celebrate Sarah and Ruth. This is their first anniversary of becoming mothers, and that's no small accomplishment! It's not something to be overlooked in light of really (really) cute babies.

Over the past year, I've had the privilege and joy of watching Ruth and Sarah embrace motherhood. It hasn't been easy, but they have been faithful.
There have been late nights and early mornings.
Countless loads of laundry washed by hand.
Trips to the medical clinic and hospital, routine and unexpected.
They've learned about nutritious foods and offering healthy choices that support baby's development.
They've been asked questions by neighbors and relatives, and they're able to explain why they're doing some things differently than culture expects.
They are empowered to advocate for their daughters and make informed choices for them.

More importantly, Ruth and Sarah have been laying down a strong foundation for Abrielle and Sofy.
I've seen the hard work and love they've poured into their daughters knowing that these years matter.

We've talked a lot about the importance of early childhood and how these are the days, months, and years to be training children in righteousness. Discipleship of children doesn't start after their first birthday. It doesn't start when they begin school or when they know how to argue with you. It's starts at the beginning of life.

Just like a strong foundation is necessary for the structural integrity of a house, the early years of child development are a critical time of preparation. Once the house is built, we don't see the foundation anymore, but we know that it's there holding everything together. Similarly, the tasks of early development often go unnoticed by others. Every developmental milestone reached, every benchmark attained points back to a loving caregiver who nurtures and encourages.

Those who are unable to see the importance of the foundation built in early years are eager to rush on to more visible, outward skills. But a house isn't simply set down on top of a foundation. Rather, the house grows up out of it. When intentionality and diligence are poured into the early years of childhood, a deep, solid foundation is built, and a child is given roots that help her stand firm in later years.

Ruth and Sarah have been faithful in gentle training, patient repetition, age-appropriate explanations, and viewing their daughters' hearts in light of God's Word. These things, this teaching and showing children what it looks like to love God and glorify Him with our lives, are incredibly difficult yet eternally important. Yes, let's celebrate these little girls that we've been gifted! Let's also celebrate their moms who daily pour out themselves for their daughters and point them to Jesus.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
 Impress them on your children. 
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, 
when you lie down and when you get up. 
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 
Write them on the doorframes of your houses 
and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Get The Picture

Though English is the official language of Uganda, it's most people's second, third, fourth, or even fifth language. And that's if they even speak it at all. Ugandan English, or Uglish, as I like to call it, is its very own version of the English language.

There are some familiar English words spoken here, but when used in a Ugandan context, they mean something completely different. Multi-cultural homonyms, if you will. Here are some examples:

cornflower (US)

cornflower (UG)

push (US)

 push (UG)

snap (US)

snap (UG)

pants (US)

pants (UG) ... to be fair, this is British-English

Saloon (US)

Saloon (UG)

Friday, November 7, 2014

From the Field

There is so much incredible work being done by faithful people all across this continent, and I'd love to share some of these stories with you. Below are links to friends' blogs highlighting some of their local ministries and cultural observations.

Uganda | Cana | Uplifted by the Horror Stories
"Of all the Bible studies we have done, the one that encouraged her the most was the goriest one because it finally was enough to prove to her that suffering does exist for Christians. Yes, God does work things together for good, but sometimes those things that He graciously transforms come from our suffering."

More boxes of Dasanach NT being brought inKenya | The Halvorson Family | Daasanach New Testament Dedication
"Join us in celebrating with the Daasanach people, who live on the Kenyan/Ethiopian border, as the missionaries there recently completed the New Testament translation in their language."
Uganda | Emily | On Yesterday's Adventure
"11:38- Thus commences a lot of discussion that is not in English, but the one word I hear repeatedly is Muzungu (white person). They are obviously discussing where to put me. I am finally ushered to the front seat of the car and crammed in next to an less than pleased looking man. We are now 8 adults in a 5 person vehicle."

Tanzania | The Pickels | 12 Months. 12 Observations.
"The biggest highway here in Dar (that we know of) is 2 lanes each way! Can you imagine? No wonder everyone’s road-raging all up in here! A 20 minute trip some days could take 1.5 hours. Tanzanians are pretty patient."

Madagascar | The Balstads | Turning of the Bones (famadihana)
"...I often read westerners say what an honor this is to the dead but they don’t realize the bondage these ancestors have put on to the people. This is not just for fun."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Miss...

Everyone who moves to the mission field experiences some sense of loss. There are things that we all miss and give up to be here. Some things are more significant, like the birth, death, or marriage of a family member or close friend. Having your children grow up near their cousins. Participating in family reunions. Other things are much more trivial. It's not unusual for people to move to Uganda and crave things like Chick-fil-A and Dr. Pepper. Some miss the fast internet speeds and unlimited downloads. 

At this point, my list of things that I miss looks a little different:

One stop shops... specifically, Target. Yes, Uganda has some very creative convenience combinations, like a car wash with your dinner or a pedicure at the gas station, but it's just not the same. On average, it takes three locations, two phone calls, and one boda ride to get all my shopping done for the week.
Being anonymous. This is a big one for me. I miss being able to blend in and go unnoticed. As soon as I step out of my compound gate, I have to be "on" and aware of the fact that I'm always being watched, often being singled out, and sometimes being followed. How do I cope? It involves a combination of sunglasses to give me a sense of privacy, an ipod playing to drown out the comments, and an umbrella to block the stares.

Sidewalks. I appreciate the pedestrian culture in Uganda, but there are no official provisions made for it in Mbarara. Sidewalks can only be found in town, and even then, you have to watch out for the bodas that drive up and down or park in the middle of them.

City noise ordinances. There's a sports stadium (a.k.a. grassy field with a set of bleachers), a large boys' boarding school, various bars with huge loud speakers, and an event grounds right at the bottom of our hill. Because of science and the incredible amphitheater effect, we get all sorts of music blasted right up the hill and into our apartment building all hours of the day and night.  And then there are the neighbor dogs... I listen to this soundtrack on repeat every day.

Customer service. Now, this can be deceiving on first appearances. In your average grocery store, there's usually a 1:1 ratio of workers to aisles. They sit on a stool in the aisle or walk behind you, at close range, as you shop. It does seem like it could be helpful to have so many employees just hanging around waiting to help. Sometimes I can't find the product I need, and sometimes I ask an employee if they know where it is, and I always regret this. 
The truth is, though the employees are more than willing to help, they don't usually know what it is they're looking for. To their credit, they've probably never tried or heard of many products the store stocks, and the stock is constantly changing. Since many of the products are imported from China and Dubai, the purchaser will bring over a few of each item to see how they sell. This means a constantly changing and always random assortment of products that don't have an official spot in the store or known use to the employees. So when I ask for "ginger ale" or "brown rice," they'll make a valiant effort to search the whole store. But if I couldn't find it on my own, it's not there.

Seasons marking time. While I don't particularly miss scraping ice off windshields or the suffocating humidity, I do miss the changing of season and how they help mark the passage of time. Is it July or December? It all feels and looks the same here!
Outdoor baptism in December? Why not!
4th of July picnic

Systems and structures that allow for productivity. I don't tend to think about things like road maintenance, quality control, law enforcement, and general organization until something goes wrong. I didn't realize how much predictability and comfort these systems and structures provide for the average citizen until they were severely lacking. Apart from high school government classes, I'd never spent much time thinking about what it would be like to establish a country, create and enforce laws, build and maintain infrastructure that serves its citizens, and ensure that everything flows well and makes sense in the bigger picture. And then I moved to Uganda and starting thinking about it all the time.  

A vehicle and the freedom it brings. Though driving here brings its own set of stresses (see "systems and structures," or lack thereof), it's great to be able to pop into town or over to the grocery store without too much hassle (see "being anonymous"). On rare occasions, I get to ride in a friend's air-conditioned vehicle and put all my shopping bags in the trunk rather than walking in the hot sun and then calling a boda to help carry my things home. Those rare occasions are a real treat!

In Luke 14, Jesus tells his disciples to count the cost of following him. He describes our Kingdom work as being like building and battle. He says, "Sit down and see if you can afford to follow me." Living in Uganda has certainly caused me to count the costs of following Jesus numerous times, yet it always comes down to this: He Is Worth It.