Making a difference in Uganda, Africa. Footage from Suubi village where I worked and driving down the streets of Kampala where I lived...pretty neat stuff.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who was able to come to my presentation about my journey in Uganda, Africa. To those of you who were unable to attend, I have posted below a detailed outline of my trip. I pray it blesses your heart!
Uganda, Africa Presentation
2/11/11 to 10/12/11
-Before I begin tonight I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone in this church for your generosity, prayers, and encouragement! I am brought to tears truly every time I talk about you. Those of you who have watched me grow up and have seen me develop. I say this at every presentation I give, I always take you with me on every trip, everywhere I go. I’ve taken you all around the world. Some of you can’t go on the mission field, but give so generously to send me. Words cannot express how grateful I am for you! For your prayers, for your encouragement, for your love, and your financial support. I would not be here if it weren’t for you being obedient to the Lord’s will. It brings tears of joy to my eyes just thinking about all the rewards you are storing up for yourself in heaven and that He will say to you one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant, for great is your reward.” So thank you truly from the bottom of my heart! And to my own flesh and blood: Mom and Dad, thank you! I would not be who I am and where I am today had it not been for your obedience to the Lord and raising me in the fear and admonition of the Lord! To know I have your blessing and wholehearted support despite the difficulty of not having me in your arms to hold means a world of words where there really are no words. I thank God for you all! Every single one of you! You have all blessed me in ways you may never know!
-I thought I would begin by reading a journal entry that I wrote on 3/15 about a month into my stay in Uganda.
“Our God is absolutely amazing! I’m so humbled by His goodness that my eyes are literally filled with tears of absolute joy as I’m writing to you. I’m almost at a loss for words, but will try my best to convey all the workings of Almighty God that are in my spirit. I have such a burning desire to share with you all not only what God is doing in the nation of Uganda but how He is changing me as a result of what He’s revealing to me! I am absolutely blown away. You know we go on mission trips with the mindset of blessing others, serving others, and loving others. However, I’ve found once you go, you always come back with so much more than you left with. Once we yield to Christ, it’s amazing what He does in not only our lives, but in the lives of everyone we are surrounded by and also to those we may never meet this side of heaven. You go to bless, but the Lord blesses you twofold by those you came to serve. It’s amazing! A lot of you know my heart for the nation of Uganda. I traveled there about two years ago and literally fell in love with the Ugandan people. They are the most warm and welcoming community of people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I’m just drawn to them. The Lord has literally filled my heart with an overwhelming love and passion for the Ugandan people, it’s truly indescribable. I almost wish you could see through the eyes of my heart if only for a second just so I could allow you to capture it and see it from my perspective."
When I returned from Uganda, the most common question I found myself answering was, “So…what is Africa like…how was it? However, it’s often difficult for me to summarize the thoughts and experiences of my heart in a few quick sentences. So this is my attempt to answer that question. Please allow me to take you on a little journey as we travel through the streets, community, villages, and country of Uganda. It’s my prayer you will catch a glimpse of the sights, sounds, smells, and randomness of this beautiful, yet poverty stricken community. First and foremost, Africa in a nation full of beautiful people. I have to talk about the people first because they are so very dear to my heart and the very reason the Lord called me to Uganda. I can remember multiple times as I walked down the streets of Kampala or in the villages where I noticed a Ugandan walking with their head down or appeared to be downcast, but as soon as I smiled at them it was as if their whole countenance lifted. They would instantly smile a smile that lit up an entire room. Even in the midst of such poverty and horrible living conditions there is just a joy and air about them that absolutely puts me in awe. As you will notice in the pictures I will show later, Africans have the most beautiful complexions and their eyes and smiles are their most prominent characteristics. There are a lot of times I almost felt like a celebrity walking through the villages with a train of children running out to meet me, following behind me, smiling, waving, and jumping up and down yelling Muzungo, Muzungo. (Which means “white person” in their native language). Africa is a nation of diversity. There is city life and village life. As you drive or walk down the city streets of Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda, known as the city on seven hills, you will notice rich neighborhoods, then a block down the street you will view unimaginable poverty in what Africans call “the slums.” Tiny shacks, mud-brick homes, and tin roof market places line the streets. Ugandans are constantly selling something. It’s common to see fresh fruits and vegetables in these markets, clothes, and other trinkets simply lying on blankets waiting for purchasers. Street vendors constantly swarm the cars caught in traffic selling all sorts of items trying to earn an extra shilling or two. Smells of gas, sewage, and burning trash often line your nostrils within the city. Most of the roads in Kampala are paved, however due to the fact there isn’t much grass, dust particles fill the air in the dry season making it very difficult to keep anything clean. In the rainy season, flooding is likely, forcing Ugandans out into the streets in the middle of the night because their homes are flooded. The dirt roads turn to mud and its common for vehicles to slide off the roads into the ditches and get stuck causing accidents. Malaria is also on the rise during the rainy season due to the massive amounts of standing water in potholes and bodies of water. Although Kampala is still considerably underdeveloped, it is more Americanized than I pictured at first, most signs and billboards are written in English. There is a diversity of foods such as Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and a few coffee shops such as Java’s and I Love NY or NY Kitchen. Local Ugandan staple foods consist of rice, beans, porsha (similar to cauliflower), matooke (mashed bananas), meat (beef, chicken, pork), j-nut sauce (mashed up peanuts to make a creamy pinkish sauce, and a banana or a slice of pineapple. Most of their food consists of low spices and is fairly bland (w/o much taste). Their diets are mainly high carbs and filling foods consumed in large quantities because some never know where their next meal is coming from so they stalk up. What Ugandans refer to as “Pork Joints” line the streets. Its common to see raw meat hanging like clothes on a clothes line out in the open ready for customers to buy and live chickens in cages also ready to purchase. And the famous “Ugandan drive through.” On road trips to neighboring towns when vehicles pull over, a mob of Ugandans literally come running to your car forcing water bottles, soda bottles, chicken on a stick, into your car wanting you to purchase it. The desperation and poverty of these people is sometimes unbearable, which also leads to theft, manipulation, and corruption.
One time just outside the church I saw a man take off running (its assumed in Uganda that if you’re running, you probably stole something) and right in front of our vehicle a lady who happened to be walking by smacked him right on the back with an umbrella. However, it didn’t slow him down any. It was common to see Ugandans taking justice into their own hands by circling around someone and literally beating them to death on the side of the street probably because they stole something (mob justice) really because no one else will do justice so they have to take it into their own hands. You will notice there are policeman, military officers, and traffic cops (wearing white uniforms) everywhere carrying large guns strapped to their shoulders walking up and down the streets especially around government buildings. If you weren’t aware that Uganda is actually one of the safer areas in Africa you may be pretty intimidated. You will also notice a lot of gated communities (Ugandans refer to them as compounds), sharp glass and often barb wire line the tops of these fences that usually surround houses due to theft. However, unfortunately there is much corruption within the government, which trickles into the morality and character of the police officers. It’s common for a police officer to pull someone over for speeding and later receive a bribe usually money and release them without a warning or a ticket. The common language in central Uganda is Luganda. Neighboring communities speak Swahili also. I learned some of the local language, however, most individuals around Watoto spoke fine English and most in the community also spoke good English. However, the story just wouldn’t be complete if I failed to tell you about the randomness and entertainment on the streets of Kampala. Some of the sights I saw you wouldn’t believe. The traffic is quite comical at times. It’s literally bumper to bumper traffic and everyone drives within inches of one another and really no one has the right-of-way. It’s every man for himself. Where it would take you 20 minutes to arrive somewhere, in Kampala it would at least take you an hour to an hour ½. But at Christmas time, it would take you four hours. The roads are narrow and people, chickens, goats, large cows, and bota bota’s (what we would call small motorcycles, Ugandans use as quick taxi’s) are constantly darting out in front of you in all directions often hitting your mirror as they drive by or hitting the back or side of your car with their hand letting you know you’re in their way). It’s pretty comical. Driving is literally an obstacle course and it appears anything is legal. There are sidewalks, but usually the bota bota drivers use them as a quick racetrack around the city. I’ve seen as many as five Ugandans on the back of a 100cc bota before…very entertaining. You also might see 10 foot in width bags of charcoal balanced on the backseat or furniture or even 15 foot poles standing straight up in the air on these bota bota’s and sometimes even 20-30 live chickens tied to the front handlebars. In Uganda, they drive on the left side of the road and sit on the right side of the vehicle and even the blinker is on the right instead of the left causing one to constantly hit the wipers every time you want to turn. Needless to say it took some getting use to. Then as if watching out for people, bota’s, crazy taxi drivers who dart right out in front of you as well wasn’t enough, you must be careful not to run your front wheel into the gigantic holes on the sides of the road and dodge all the potholes that usually have the potential to knock your wheels out of line or give you a flat tire. I had this happen a few times.
It’s also common to see what Ugandan’s call “mad men” or crazy people walking the streets, homeless men with no legs begging for food or money, ladies sitting on the ground holding infants begging money. Some of the most desperate and shocking situations, I witnessed. I was told adults in Uganda literally send their children up to your car window, stand there, look into your eyes, knock on your window with their hands out saying “Hello, hello” trying to get your attention. Then the children are required to return all the money to the adults while they get to keep none for themselves. I witnessed this firsthand as it’s a normal occurrence in Uganda. It was a common experience to have at least six street children bang on my car window as I was stuck in traffic on my way to work everyday. The streets are flooded with street kids who were begging all day and all night. It literally breaks your heart. It’s also common to see trucks driving down the streets of Kampala advertising radio stations with huge, blaring stereo’s and a Ugandan or two in the back singing, dancing, or talking in a mic. There is no such thing as noise ordinances overseas. Africa is known for its music and dance, so music floods the streets and guys dressed up in some funky costumes often dance on the side of the street for others amusement. You will notice children with no toys, so they creatively make their own. You will see them kicking rocks, pushing around tires with sticks, wire, and cardboard, playing soccer with no shoes on, on goals without nets and they are so joyful and content. The randomness of the city is so entertaining. To give you a few examples one time I was driving to work and about three power lines fell down on the street right in front of me onto a large truck and completely blocked the entire street as sparks flew everywhere. People will riot at the drop of a hat, whether it be because the cost of sugar went up or they are unpleased with how a government election turned out. So they will begin spraying tear gas on the streets, etc… This is mainly because there’s a lot of idleness on the streets and a lot of people do not have work. However, once you escape the craziness and chaos of the city, the greenery, hills, and countryside of Uganda is breathtaking. Uganda is filled with several bodies of water: Lake Victoria and the Nile River to list a few. Village life is considerably different than city life. While in Kampala most had running water and more consistent electricity, that’s not always the case in the village. Most village settings consist of a community of people who literally share everything. With the exception of Watoto villages some villages use what Ugandans refer to as jerry cans to haul water to and from the closest pond or body of water. Almost all Ugandans wash all their clothes by hand and boil their water and take baths in a small wash bin. Most African houses have what they call a “wash room” aka bathroom outside disconnected to the house in which they refer to as a pit latern (or what I call a squatty potty) basically a hole in the ground with a small structure around it for privacy. Uganda reserves power so one night this half of the country or city would have power, then the next night the other half would have electricity. I could usually count on the power being on at my house a little under half of the time and also bathed in a wash bin and washed my clothes by hand. It was a very humbling experience to live as the Africans live. I really wouldn’t have had it any other way.
However, now that you’ve seen a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the ugly, my favorite thing remains that and it resides in the spirit of the Ugandan people: It is obvious their country is far from perfect and they have very little “material wealth.” They live their simple lives and somehow “get” or truly grasp what is really important in life. Their simple, yet deep faith and dependence on the Lord for Him to provide their every need is so inspiring because for the majority of them (He is ALL they have). Their joy no matter what circumstances they are faced with and their unashamed, unhindered, energetic, genuine, enthusiastic worship of their Almighty God is beyond incredible. It’s what keeps me desiring to go back, it’s what draws me there, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM!” And let me tell you what, there is freedom in those worship services.
-I wrote the following journal entry on 3/15 about a month into my journey in Uganda that I wanted to share with you:
The team and I traveled into Northern Uganda Friday evening into a town called Gulu. This was actually my first trip there and it is at the heart of where the war took place around 1994. Gulu is where the Lord’s Resistance Army set up command centers in order to raise up child soldiers. These children were forced to witness unimaginable atrocities. Children were forced to kill their family members and were forced to watch their family members be mutilated and killed right before their eyes. The children were threatened with their lives if they did not obey the commands to kill their family. Many of the women were abducted, taken into the bush and raped, beaten, and left desolate. The violence was horrific and like nothing you could imagine. Gulu is about four hours from Kampala, where I’m currently residing. Our purpose for traveling there was to team up with an Engineer Missions International (EMI) team. This team is made up of experts that specialize in architecture, agriculture, and various other disciples. This team was put together by Almighty God and His fingerprints were all over it. This team came together from all over the world and worked together on formulating a master plan for what is to be called Koch Agriculture Technical College in Gulu. This team has been working extensively all day and all night for a solid week in preparation for the presentation in which we heard today. This college is designed to bring hope to not only the surrounding villages and community in which it borders, but will also target students in Watoto that have graduated from the Watoto villages that have a passion for learning how to farm, growing crops, and raising livestock. There was a particular lady by the name of Kristin. She is a native from Gulu herself and I was just blown away at how the Lord is using her. To me, she was an individual that when she spoke, people listened. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, hanging on every word she was saying. What she was saying was so interesting. This project began about three years ago when Watoto purchased 150 acres to build this college on. However, she stated you have to understand the Acholi culture in order to truly grasp how inspired this project is by the Lord. The Acholi people view land as their inheritance. It is the only thing in which they have possession of being so poor, so naturally it is something they hold very near and dear and is extremely difficult for them to let go of. So they bought into this belief that this college would bring hope and lasting change not only to those who travel through this college, but their entire community and released their land to Watoto. One of the amazing things about Watoto Ministry is that it doesn’t just touch the lives of those it’s designed to care for, orphans and widows. It not only brings hope to the lives of the orphans, widows, and vulnerable women who have been abducted, raped, and who are now HIV+, but that hope spills over the boundary lines of Watoto’s physical property into the lives of the surrounding community and in turn the Lord brings healing to this war impoverished community. I am so humbled to be a part of this amazing kingdom work the Lord is doing. It’s so broad scale. Because you see it’s so much more than teams coming together to build schools, village homes, or an agricultural school. It’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ and bringing hope to a community who has literally been through hell and back. You see we all have our own sphere of influence. Those only we can reach as Christ paves the way. Kingdom work has such a ripple effect. Similar to when you throw a rock in a body of water, the ripple begins small, but begins to grow. The larger the ripple grows, the more people are touched by Christ’s love shining through you and me. The same is true when a believer is doing God’s work. One may never know what a difference one person can make in another’s life. We may never understand this side of heaven how the Lord has used the work of our hands to benefit so many lives. That excites me in ways I can’t even begin to describe to you! It puts the work I am doing into perspective as well. I was reminded that we may at times see the work we are doing in the kingdom as so small and maybe insignificant. But when you look at it in the light of the cross, wow, it’s absolutely amazing because no kingdom work is insignificant. God only knows whom you are touching through Christ both in the present and in the future. You may never know whose life you are touching with your ripple.
The mayor of Gulu was at this presentation also and the government in Uganda supports Watoto and the work they are doing in the community, which is amazing in itself. After the presentation he spoke and asked when are we getting this thing on the ground because he believes it will change this entire community. The hope is to also teach the surrounding villages how to grow their own crops for their families and reach out and train them as well in addition to the students in the college. After the presentation, our team traveled to what they call Living Hope. Living Hope is a branch off Watoto that specifically ministers to vulnerable women. Every woman in Living Hope resides in their facility and has been abducted by the Rebels, most of which have been beaten and raped. A good percentage of the women in the Living Hope Program are HIV+. Living Hope is designed to restore dignity to these women. The purpose is to keep these women alive so they are able to care for their children who actually reside in the facility with them. They are also taught life skills and Watoto provides them with a trade such as sewing, making sanitary pads, etc... Gulu has recently begun a new project making sanitary pads for women. In Uganda, teenage girls began to drop out of school and are not able to finish their studies because they have to miss a week of school every month. They had no hygiene products so they had to stay home. So an individual actually invented a way to make sanitary pads out of papyrus and paper. They go through an entire assembly line process in Living Hope that the vulnerable women assist with to keep teenage girls in school, which enables them to finish their education. As we toured through the facility, Kristin, the same individual at the presentation I spoke of earlier gave us the tour. We entered a room full of about 50-75 women almost all HIV+. Every women had a story, every women had been abducted in the war. Here I am standing in front of these women as I attempt to scan through the room, each one is seated in front of their sewing machines, making dolls for the Watoto Choir and as I simply look into their eyes, I’m literally brought to tears. Everything in my life that remotely concerned me was completely erased and is so insignificant when you look these women in the eyes. Wow! Talk about humbling. Every scar they have tells a story. Some women have been mutilated, having their ears cut or pieces of their body cut by the Rebels. Every one of them has a story to tell. It’s in moments like that one is brought into the reality of what really matters in life. Then to hear Kristin talk about how much joy they have and to be able to witness their beautiful smiles. Yes, they have been through more than any of us can ever imagine, however, they understand they are not defined by what’s happened to them in the past and they understand they don’t have to live chained to their past. Their past circumstances do not define them! Christ defines them. Kristin was saying once they realize that, they are filled with such hope, and they just let it all go by the Lord’s grace. Each women journey’s through the Trauma Rehabilitation Program, which is extensive counseling before they enter into the Living Hope Program. It is here they learn to forgive. They learn that forgiveness is a choice. Kristin told us that in a lot of cases the very individuals who abducted them still live in their villages and these women come into contact with their abductor’s daily. She said at first these women just want to kill their abductors, however, once they learn that forgiveness is a choice, it changes everything. Unforgiveness acts as a poison that slowly kills you. It’s only when they choose to forgive and let that go, they find freedom. Kristin compared it to a poisonness snake. The faster you run, the faster it kills you.
As we were on our way back from Gulu, Uganda I began thinking about the ministry the Lord has for me to do during my stay in Uganda. I believe He spoke to my heart in such a tender way and told me that I may never know who benefits from the work of my hands, the words of encouragement I have spoken, the love I've shown, the joy I've passed on by simply smiling at someone, by simple being here. And the same is true for you. I believe the Lord reminded me of this song Brenda Woods use to sing here at Selmore when I was a child. It’s called Thank You for Giving to the Lord and is one of the songs that will be playing behind my slideshow pictures in just a few minutes. It was the nourishment I needed at that moment and the Lord brought to mind all of you. I want to say Thank you for giving to the Lord on my behalf.
-Before I left for Uganda, the Lord specifically ministered to my spirit through these three verses that became the promises that I clung to in Uganda and I wanted to share them with you:
Heb. 13:20, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete (or equip you) in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Mark 9:23, “all things are possible to him who believes.”
-Talk about my experience (what work I did, where I lived, had a car, what my typical day looked like, friends I made, ministries I was involved in (worship ministry, cell, discipleship class), activities I did on the weekend (sightseeing trips, swimming).
-I would like to conclude by sharing with you about the lessons the Lord taught me:
“Remember, our God is much more into changing you into the likeness of His Son, than He is into you "achieving" things.” For me this quote has totally changed my perspective. He wanted to teach me how to become more like Him and not so much focus on “doing” but “being.” Sometimes the Lord wants us to “just be” and quit “doing.”
As I think about the ways I can see the Lord has been changing me into the likeness of His Son, it’s definitely been learning about:
1. Compassion (love)- Everyday I asked the Lord to help me to walk in His strength, in His light, and in His love and that that He empowers me to love, serve, and give. Thatbecame the theme the Lord continually brought me back to. I believe the main thing the Lord showed me was how to love as He loved! He taught me truly how to be an extension of His hands and feet. I sensed the Lord gently whisper in my heart several times that my purpose here is very simple: it’s to bring joy into the hearts and lives of hurting, war-torn Ugandan’s. I can remember also sensing the Holy Spirit telling me “I’ve brought you here to love, serve, and to give of yourself completely to the Ugandan people, to pour into them everything I’ve give to you.” Wow!” He told me… “just LOVE.” That really resonated in my spirit. That’s one thing I can do in the love He’s bestowed to me! Several times I was amazed at the love the Lord bestowed in my heart to give freely to the Ugandan people. I’m here to do what Christ spent His entire life doing, loving, serving, and giving of Himself. To spend time with the Ugandans, visit them, to love them deeply and practically, to get into their lives deeply and not merely superficially, to build into them, to pour of my life into them, talk with them about the Lord, their daily lives, to find out what’s important to them, what frustrates them, what they fear, what their achievements are, to find out how they think, what concerns them, and what their victories and triumphs are in life and bring Christ into all of that. Simply BE THERE for them in every way the Lord opened to me. That’s TRUE DISCIPLESHIP!
2. Humility, flexibility, and maintaining a positive attitude. I met another missionary here and she said, “the one thing that makes an amazing missionary isn’t their skill set, but their attitude.”
3. Faith/dependence on the Lord-learning how to have more faith (relying on Him for things I never have before.
4. Selflessness-learning how to truly put others before myself. “Giving of self into other lives with no regard for cost to personal time, freedom, agenda, etc.”
5. Servanthood/Service- I’m here to serve (learning what true servanthood really looks like). Serving even when what you are doing maybe isn’t your passion or what you like to do. Serving anyway and keeping the main picture in perspective.
6. Simplicity-LESS IS MORE! HOW “STUFF” REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “WANTS” AND GENUINE “NEEDS”
THE LORD GIVES US THE GRACE TO FACE WHATEVER IS BEFORE US BECAUSE HE HAS CALLED US TO IT.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” -1 Peter 3:8-9
-Mention sponsorship program, ways you can get involved, pray for Africa!