Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where My Heart Is

My heart and thoughts are at home today. I got a call from my dad last night that my mom is in the hospital. (Dad, it was so good to hear from you. I miss you and love you. :) )She's been sick this week and turns out she needed surgery to take her gallbladder out. I haven't had any updates since last night and at that point she had not had surgery yet. I've been praying that all is going well, that her doctors will make wise choices, and that she is cared for. I want to be there with her, to keep her company, and to take care of her, but I'm here in Uganda which is 2 day trip by plane away from home. So Mom, if you're reading this know that I love you and that I'm praying for you constantly.

Getting that call from my dad last night confirmed one of my fears of possibly serving abroad one day. If things do happen to my family I can't just get in the car and go. That may be one of the costs of picking up my cross and following Him where He leads me. I praise God that He does take care of us and that He can use any situation to bring about good.

So Mom, take it easy, get well soon, sleep a ton, catch up on NCIS and So You Think You Can Dance, have Shelby make you dinner :), eat some popsicles, and do as your doctors say. Love you <3

*UPDATE: Mom is home recovering now. She is recovering faster than doctors expected, which is awesome. Thanks for you prayers. :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Friends

No matter what kind of day I'm having, the kids here always make me smile. There's nothing quite like walking along a super muddy footpath with at least 4 children holding onto you. Let's just say it takes skills and luckily no one's gotten hurt yet. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Day in the Life

Rooster crows
Family talking and cleaning
Wake up- foggy eyed
Bucket bath
Fumble in the dimness
No wrinkles allowed
Tea, bread, Blue Band, Zesta
Red dirt roads
Huge pot-holes
Watch your step
Stares from adults
“Bye mzungu!”
Waves and shouts from children
Some with distended bellies
Walk up hill
Sweat in the heat, humidity, and sunlight
Try to concentrate
Find motivation
Decipher accents
What was the question?
Rain storm- buckets
Run for cover
Fatigue sets in
Cramming in the assignments
Reading…and more reading
Head home
30 minutes pass
Local kids run up to meet us
Tugging my skirt
4 kids trying to hold my 2 hands
“Pick me up!”
Greetings from family
“You are welcome.”
Tea time...or hot chocolate
Catch up with family
Talk to the chapatti guys
Unwind from the day
Ugandan News or
Dubbed-over Spanish soap operas
Bathe again, if you want
Help wash dishes
Set up for dinner
Tummy rumbles
Dinner…at 9:30 or 10
Matoke, rice, bean “soup”, sometimes meat
Pass out,
"Good night."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to Reality

I just got back from Jinja last night and it was a great weekend trip. We actually stayed at a resort in rooms that looked like huts. It was sweet. We got to hear from several missionaries, went to a place called the Source Cafe, went on a devotional tour of Jinja, went out on a tour of the Nile, had pizza, and went to a local church. I really liked this past weekend a lot and would love to go back to Jinja again. This weekend also made me think about a lot of things. During our devotional tour a missionary named Ben took us around the town to different locations- starting first at the spot where Lake Victoria turns into the Nile, then to a street where many Indians used to live, then through an industrial part of town called the Ting Ting, all the while asking questions like, "Why are you here? What's important to you? Do you want a testimony or a title? How will you be remembered?"

Lastly Ben took us to Jinja Hospital to see what it's like. He told us to walk through the wards and to say hi to people. Jinja Hospital is the place to go for the nearly 2 million people in the area. It's nothing like an American hospital- you can wait WEEKS before you see a doctor and the staff doesn't really take care of you. They give you your meds but after that you're on your own. It's up to your family to take care of you, bathe you, and feed you.

When I walked into the hospital it was a complete shock. When Ben said "ward" I assumed it would be a hallway with double rooms, but it was really an open room with 15-20 beds. I felt so awkward being there. You've got extremely sick people laying in beds and we've been told to just go take a look. It was a struggle for me to do that- personally I think it would have been a lot better if we would have stayed the whole day and gotten to really talk to the people instead of just going on a "tour." I think the reason it made me really uncomfortable though was because of the conditions. Before I left I walked through a TB ward. We were told that people who have HIV and AIDS don't die from those diseases, but they die from diseases and infections they catch due to their failing immune systems. TB is a common culprit. When you get TB and it gets really bad your chest begins to fill up with fluid making it super hard to breathe, so it's like you're suffocating. If you're lucky they can insert a needle and remove some of the fluid. All in all, TB is a terrible thing to deal with. When I walked into the ward everything in me wanted to run. There were people laying on hospital beds hooked up to IVs and you could tell they were suffering and in pain. There was on man who was surrounded by his family and when I looked at him I could see him laboring for each breathe. His sides would rise and fall very dramatically and you could see the worried looks on his family's tear-stained faces. I don't know if that man was on the brink of death, but I don't think I'll ever forget seeing that.

Going to the hospital was a nice reality check. This is reality for so many people. Even as an American in Africa if I get taken to a health care facility, I could get seen a lot faster than those around me. I'd hash out my money and get taken care of. It's sad. But having sympathy for those people gets me nowhere. You feel sorry for a little while and move on. Empathy and reliance on God are what's needed to try to bring about change or to at least wage the battle alongside people. People are people no matter where you go and they all desire to be loved, needed, listened to, and to have a purpose.

This made me think about the question, "What are you here for?" A good story to tell? A "life experience?" It made me realize that my motives in coming weren't exactly pure. Part of me wanted to have that story to tell when I got back. But the truth is, yeah I'll have things to say, but people won't be interested for long. Sure I'm able to do something that many people don't have the chance to do, but it means nothing if I don't let this experience change me. I battle the desire of wanting a story to tell, but more and more of my heart wants to be here to be changed. To see where God leads and to let Him mold me. God's given me a chance to see people He loves unconditionally in a different context. He's showing me the widows, orphans, and the poor that He cares so much about. I'm also realizing that I don't know what lies ahead. Whether I'll live in the US or abroad when I'm older, but He's showing me the importance of following Him no matter the cost. I may have to be away from my friends and family and comforts of "home" but He's trying to teach me that His ways are higher, bigger, and so much better than my ways.

So the "I don't knows" remain and I'm learning to be ok with that. I serve a God who sees it all and whose timing is perfect.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Looking Up

The last few days have been pretty good. I think I’m getting the hang of classes and am finding routine in my “new life.” If you’ve been praying for me, thank you. I seriously mean that. I’ve realized that I need to take life a step at a time, day by day. I’m also learning the importance of the saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” There have been so many times that my thoughts drift back to life in the U.S., which isn’t bad but when I choose to dwell on that and let my longings for home overtake my thoughts I’m setting myself up to miss out on things here. I need to appreciate the little things and see the little victories like the fact that my host mom is warming up to us more and she initiates conversations now. It’s awesome.

I’ve also been learning that when God calls us to obey Him, He doesn’t mean just when we feel like it. I knew this but I've been convicted about how little I live it out. Sure I may be tired and drained but that gives me no excuse to slack off. He tells us to love others- all the time. I need to rely on Him to fill me up and to be my strength, no matter what the situation or how I'm feeling. That’s been a thing I’ve struggled with b/c when I get drained I tend to retreat and get away for some silent moments and to pray. This is not a bad thing, but it becomes no good when I choose to isolate myself from others and not love on those around me. Anyways, these are just a few things that God’s been laying on my heart lately.

And now I would like to introduce you to my oldest brother, Brian. Brian is so great and he always makes me smile and laugh. He has a genuine heart for people and would love to work in the medical field. He worked for 6 months distributing meds to HIV and AIDS patients. I can often find Brian watching movies or walking around the house singing worship songs. He’s always got a smile for you. We’ve discovered he’s got a knack for playing the card game B.S. and we decided to teach him Spoons…which he’s slowly getting the hang of. :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Not So Normal Week

So, there were riots here last week. I don't want to go into detail about why it happened b/c 1. I don't quite understand it all and 2. you may not understand my explanation either, haha. What it all came down to was tensions between the Kabaka (King of Buganda) and President Museveni. People decided it would be smart to start riots...they burned tires, cars, buses, people looted, made giant road blocks out of trees, and plain just caused problems. The riot police got involved using tear gas and rubber bullets. The first day we had to be driven home b/c of tear gas and the second day we had to leave school early and head straight home. I definitely saw burn marks on the road from the burnt tires and the trees they used for road blocks. I could sit in my house and hear the police firing bullets nearby. My host dad couldn't even drive home b/c of the road blocks and had to walk. My sister Judith ended staying at an uncles house for about 3 days because of the unrest. Not gonna lie, there were points when I got really nervous,especially when I could hear the gun shots near our house. Praise God, we are all safe and sound and it looks like peace is being restored. When we went to church yesterday everyone was definitely talking about tear gas all the time, haha.

I'm heading into my 4th week here in Africa, that's nuts to me. I feel homesick time to time. The craziest thing is that I feel the most homesick when I wake up in the mornings because I usually have just had a dream about home and the people there. I'm really thankful for my family here and for the friends I've made. I have the constant question on my mind of wondering if I'm doing things right. This experience will be what I make it and I know I'm learning things not only about Uganda, but about life and myself. But no matter how I feel (feelings can be deceiving) I know without a doubt that I am blessed and that God is always with me. As I sat on the front porch at my house yesterday, taking in a few rare quiet moments I was overwhelmed with a feeling of "I don't know." I can't really describe it, but as I prayed God reassured me that He's there, holding my hand.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You are God

You are God...
no matter where we are.
You are not limited by location, languages, circumstance, our mistakes, misunderstandings, by the boxes we put you in. You are not changed.
You are a God of...
compassion, forgiveness, justice, restoration, mending, unending love, miracles, and intimacy.
You are God...
of the poor, hurting, healing, broken, growing, confused, displaced, the journeying, the planted, the forgotten, lonely, the joyful.
Your love doesn't change despite our shortcomings, failures, or mess ups.
You ARE God.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Walk with Me

I just got to school a little bit ago and I’m still sweating from the walk, haha. I’m so out of shape. Denise and I have a 30-40 minute walk, depending upon how quickly we walk. About 1/3 of that walk is up hill….we have to pace ourselves but luckily most Ugandans walk pretty slow as well. It’s kinda like life here goes slower anyway. It’s super common to walk down the road and just see people sitting on their front porches or yards. They have time for each other.

As I walk to school I pass small houses, little stores and stands, and lots of people on boda bodas (motor bikes). Life as a pedestrian is thrilling in a dangerous way. The totem pole of travel here goes: buses, vans, cars, boda bodas, bicycles, and then people at the very bottom. If you’re in the road you better get out of the way, haha.

As a white pedestrian there is a whole other element to walking to school and it’s constantly hearing the phrase, “Hi muzungu!” These shouts almost always come from little kids and they smile and wave as you pass, some get excited and jump up and down or follow you down the road. You get looks of confusion and fear from small children sometimes because lets face it, white people in an African setting look scary. I have to admit while I was in Rwanda I was talking to a woman holding a small baby and when he looked at me he let out a loud cry, looked terrified, and then hid his face in his mom’s shoulder. I made the poor baby cry because in the words of his mother “You, first muzungu.” Haha, I was the first white person that baby had ever seen. I bring fear to small children, oh man. The other group Denise and I get the most attention from is men. They look at you and say “How are you?” with a creepy grin. This hasn’t happened to me a lot, but this has been the most attention I have ever received from guys in my life…and I’m not sure I like it, haha.

Monday, September 7, 2009


So I feel like there's so much I could write about but it would be a huge novel and I might bore you. Rwanda is a great country. It has a past and the effects are still seen today, but their future is looking up. The genocide that occurred there took 1 million lives and it has effected the lives of almost everyone left behind. I've heard countless stories of loss and tragedy beyond what I can comprehend. It's easy to look at the million lost as a whole, but EACH life mattered. Each one was a sister, brother, mother, father, friend. Each person had a story to tell and I got to put some faces to the lost and to those left behind.

The hardest place was Nyamata Church in the Burgesera District. TEN THOUSAND people were massacred there. There were piles of people's clothes on the pews, blood stains, you could see where grenades went off, where the killers had broken through doors. Tutsi women were placed on the altar and had their babies cut out of them, people were killed over a period of days by having their limbs cut off, babies were smashed against walls, and if you had money you could pay the killers for a bullet so you could die quickly. We met a guy named Charles; he was one of 7 survivors at Nyamata. His mother and father were killed; his brother in attempts to save him covered him in blood and made him lay among the dead bodies. When Charles went to find his brother, he found that he had been decapitated by a machete. It’s taken Charles years to get back on track, but he is now a believer and is trying to forgive the killers. Throughout the genocide, women were raped, and some of those who survived contracted HIV from their rapists. Around 100,000 children were orphaned. Imagine watching your family be killed by a family friend or neighbor. That was reality for many Tutsis and moderate Hutus. I’m sorry to be so graphic, but I don’t know how else to describe it to make it seem real. On Sunday I met a woman at church who had us over for lunch and we learned that her husband and 5 children had been killed in the genocide. She was the only one left.

At Nyamata you can walk into these underground crypts. There are rows and rows or stacked coffins. Each coffin contains 25-30 peoples’ remains. We also went to the memorial in Kigali. There are mass graves located there where 258,000 people are buried. It’s crazy. More bodies are found each year. Rwanda is making moves to reconciliation. When you live in rural places, like some of the villages in Rwanda, you almost have no other choice because you need others to survive. Going to Rwanda taught me so much about what it means to forgive and my own propensity to want to hold onto wrongs. People who have admitted to killings have been allowed to have a shorter sentence and spend a good portion of it doing community service because the prisons were so overloaded. You can walk down the streets of Kigali and see men in blue jumpsuits- most of these men have been convicted of murder but they’re working off their time building houses for survivors, repaving roads, and terracing hills. I looked some of those men in the eyes as I passed them and could not imagine them killing someone else.

As you walk the streets you also literally sees the scars the genocide has left behind. A girl passes who is missing a leg, a man with no arm smiles at you as walk by, a man who is an orphan has reduced himself to begging and shows you the machete marks on his head. This part killed me. I see so many people in need who ask me for money and I’ve been given strict instructions not to give any handouts. The last guy I described found me outside a church and followed me inside saying “Genocide. Machete,” and he kept showing me the healed gash in his head. I struggled with the fact that God has a heart for widows and orphans and we’ve been called to help. But then I realized, money won’t truly solve the problems they face. They need people to love them, to let them know their worth, that they’re capable of doing great things, and that God has a plan for them. Long term, holistic development is needed. You can’t break the cycle of poverty by only giving money. Poverty is a tangled web and there are many factors involved. The sad reality is that many well-meaning people have only given money-which may seem like an instant fix. This has bred a mindset of “give me” instead of “walk beside me as you show me how to improve.” I’m still thinking this all through and trying to figure out where God’s heart is in it all, but I truly think it’s on the holistic side of things. I can’t fix everyone’s problems, God can, but I can seek to know His heart more, to ask for His eyes, and to love the way He’s told me to.