Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A few last thoughts.

Tonight is our last night in Uganda. I have found, the last few days, that I have barely had the energy to think, much less to write, which is why I haven't posted an update in a while. I think three weeks has been about my limit, at least this time around, but I am so hoping I can come back again next year, to spend more time with these wonderful, beautiful people. It has been an adventure, to be sure. 

The past few days have been spent mostly tying up some loose ends. We delivered gifts we forgot to give to children, spent some time sightseeing, and visited the homes of some people in the community who deserve quite a bit more love and care than they receive. We met a widowed grandmother who takes care of her six orphaned grandchildren, and does not even have a mattress to sleep on, and an old man with no family left, who lives alone in a mud house, sick with breast cancer. Another elderly widow, also caring for her orphaned grandchildren (2 or 3 of them), who is hard of hearing, was recently very sick, and unable to even leave her house. But she had no one to bring her food, or water, or anything else. There are too many similar cases to count.

When you look into their eyes, so many of these people seem absolutely hopeless. It's as though you can see into their hearts, into their souls, into their dreams, and there is nothing left. It is as though they have spent all that their meager bodies and minds have provided, and nothing remains to be shown to the world. But some of them have fire. Some of them have an unconquerable spirit, and seem to know that life (and death) holds more for them. These are the ones who hold strong to a faith in Jesus Christ, the one true Lord, and find joy and peace in Him, even amidst their suffering. Or maybe they have not yet come to that place, but even so are on the very brink of discovering the new life that can be had because of His sacrifice. 

My heart weeps for those who cannot, or will not see what the Lord has placed before them. But my very soul rejoices with those who look into your eyes, and smile from their hearts, and proclaim that they are born again. For them, walls of mud and a roof are straw are simply a part of life, not a barrier set before the path to happiness. I do believe that the road to heaven is made of dirt. The dusty red kind, that stains the soles of your feet, and says to the world "I have walked the path less trodden, and shall know my brothers and sisters not by how clean their clothes, but how dirty their feet".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Demon Day"

Because of our itinerary, yesterday was nicknamed "Demon Day", with the first order of business being to visit the home of a local witch doctor. His eldest son, Elisha, guided us to his house and helped Pastor Robert to translate. He is in his early twenties, and is a devout Christian. He accepted Christ some years back, and is now a youth leader of sorts at True Worship Centre, the church that meets at Fountain of Hope. His father name is Emmanuel, which is rather ironic. 

He lives right next to the school, and two years ago, when Fountain was buying the property for the school (which was owned by his father), he forged documents saying that it was really he who owned the land. Luckily, or rather, unluckily, depending on how you look at it, he ran away before he was able to get any money. He did this on account of the fact that the police were after him on charges involving human sacrifice. Scary, huh? I do not know why he is now living freely back in Bukeeka. 

The tale he told of his occupation and beliefs was strange to say the least, and not altogether truthful. For the first hour or so, he told us about how he contacts the spirits (demons), and they tell him what directions to give to those who come to him. He even knows the names of many of the demons who he says belong to this area. Some of those he speaks with tell him they are the spirits of his ancestors, and he readily believes them. He is of the opinion that they can never tell a lie. He even believes that all spirits are good, and it is only some witch doctors and people that are bad. He told us that the head demon is synonymous with the Holy Spirit. 

Emmanuel (it is hard for me to refer to him by such a name), attends a local Anglican church, and professes to be a Christian. However, it is clear that he is more than a bit mixed up in his belief system, in addition to being a blatant liar. For example, when he was asked what his views are on human sacrifice, he said that no true witch doctor (one who is called to his occupation by the demons themselves) will practice human sacrifice, as the demons do not approve of death and destruction. Obviously, this is not the case, as we know that demons thrive on such things, and that he himself has been involved in human sacrifice.

There is a nearby hill, with a portion of the face being made up of a large slab of stone, upon which the local witch doctors perform their ceremonies and sacrifices. They have built shrines there for the spirits they worship. Emmanuel offered to take us up to see it, but we did not have time, and I must say that I am glad we didn't have time to go up with him, because that does not sound like a place I would like to visit.

Emmanuel told us he daily pleads with the spirits not to plague his son, Elisha, since he refuses to worship them, but Elisha told us a very different story. He said his father refuses to pay for his schooling and living expenses because he refuses to worship any being but the one true God.

The witch doctor was not to be swayed in his beliefs, try as we might, and by the end he was becoming frustrated that he could not answer our questions consistently, so we knew it was time to leave.

After lunch, we went to visit the home of a girl who, up until recently, was attending Fountain of Hope, but then dropped out because apparently the demons had told her not to go. Like most in the community, she has an interesting living situation. She is 16 years old, and both of her parents have died, so she lives with a few of her seven siblings and her grandparents. When we were at their home, her grandfather put on a wonderful show of being the perfect guardian, saying how concerned he was that she (Shamim) is not going to school or to church. Even though he and his wife are Muslim, he made it seem as though he was very accepting of Shamim's Christian faith.

But then Sarah took the girl aside to talk to her privately, since she was unwilling to speak her mind in front of the whole group. Shamim told Sarah that her grandfather does everything he can do to keep her from church on sundays, and that he is abusive, and also refuses to provide necessary items for her (I am assuming this means clothing, hygiene items, etc.). Shamim also told her that her uncle is the one who has been sending demons to her, as well as to a few of her oldest siblings. She said that one of the biggest struggles in regards to this is that they sometimes keep her from being able to read. I, along with some others in our group, wonder if perhaps this particular problem is less spiritual and more physical, if perhaps she simply has poor eyesight, or dyslexia, but there was no way for us to tell. 

The grandfather is, according to Pastor Robert, highly involved in witchcraft, so what she claims about spiritual troubles may be completely true. On the other hand, it could be a combination of both this, and being a hormonal 16 year old girl rebelling against guardians who do not know what to do with her. The plan is to move her into boarding, pray over her, and wait to see if things improve. But until she can be taken from her toxic environment, there is not much to be done.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Last sunday.

Last sunday, we attended a small church about half an hour away from Pastor and Sarah's house. They were in the middle of worship when we got there, but some stopped for a moment to welcome all of us. We were invited to sit in a place of honor, on benches up behind where the worship leaders and speakers were. There was not much about the service or the building itself that in any way resembled the church services I am used to back home. The structure was built with roughly cut planks of wood, with many gaps, and there were no doors. The people were worshipping through both song and dance, following a man and a woman who took turns leading the crowd. 

After the music was done, the pastor asked for a few members of the congregation to tell short testimonies. One woman stood, and gave thanks that her mother was still alive, even though her house had burned down a few days prior. What struck me about her story was that she did not say how sad she was that the house was gone, and then add on that she was grateful her mother was still alive. No, she said nothing about the grief that the incident must surely have caused her and her family. She simply expressed her joy that she could still worship beside her mother. 

After church, everyone slowly made their to Bukeeka to Fountain of Hope, where a large group was gathering to go down to the Nile for a mass baptism. In addition to the van that our group (plus some extras) rode down in, there were three truckloads of people who attended the baptism. In total, 162 were baptized that day. When I heard there was going to be a baptism, I figured it would be, at most 20 people. Obviously, the numbers were far greater! It was unlike any other baptism I have ever seen. Not only did people show up in great numbers, to be baptized in the Nile river (the Nile!), souls were set free in ways I had not imagined would occur. There were probably about 15 or 20 people who had demons cast out of them as a result of their baptisms. It was both frightening and powerful to watch. The acceptance of a spirit world is so ingrained in the culture in this area, that it makes it quite easy for the people to accept the ideas of heaven and hell, and those that dwell there. However, it also leaves them open to all sorts of spirits that are not of the Lord. Before the baptism, Pastor Robert even had to ask that anyone who wished to be baptized go a ways into the bush and cast off any talismans or other such items before they went into the water. All in all, it was a pretty eventful day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting Settled

A few initial thoughts:
The sun is hotter here. Well, duh, we are closer to it, being only about 1 degree off he Equator, but still. for some reason I didn't imagine the sun itself actually feeling hotter for some reason. Secondly, as we made the drive from Entebbe to Jinja, I became certain that if I was making the drive myself, I would have a heart attack and die within the first five minutes. Technically, you are supposed to drive on the left side of the road, but in the traffic in Kampala (Uganda's capital city) people drive by their own rules. Or ride their bikes. Or their motorcycles. Or walk. we even saw one guy rollerblading down one of the paved streets, going just as fast as the cars around him. Thirdly, I expected the people, culture, buildings, etc., to not be how I expected them to be, if that makes any sense. What I mean by that, is after being so exposed to different cultures through TV, movies, books, and other forms of media, we get a picture in our minds of how people live in other countries. And usually, it seems, that picture is wrong. No, people do not live in teepees on Native American reservations. In Germany, the men don't all wear lederhosen and the women don't all have their hair in braids wrapped around their heads. But here you really do see people riding down the street on their bicycles with enormous bundles of something that was once growing balanced on the back. Here, many of the houses really do look as if they are made of mud and sticks, and the dirt is so red it will stain your shoes.

Today was our first full day in Uganda, and, unlike yesterday, we all made it until after sunset before heading to bed. It's about 9:00 pm here. The adjustment between time zones has been tough for everyone, and naps have been plentiful. Hoping that we all get accustomed in the next day or two! The layover in London was long (nine hours), and the plane rides were even longer, but it was definitely worth it. We arrived in Entebbe yesterday morning, and were greeted by Pastor Robert, Peter, and a few others. We then made our way out of Entebbe, through Kampala and Jinja, and here to Robert and Sarah's house, and the Nile Guest House, where all the women are staying. We had a late lunch, discussed plans for the week, and then most of us headed to bed shortly after. Today we all met for breakfast here at the guest house at 8:00, before walking over to Robert and Sarah's house for a morning devotional and to begin our work. The guys went into Bukeeka to sit in on a parent meeting at Fountain of Hope school, and then went to buy painting supplies for the kitchen project we will be doing. Meanwhile, the four of us women and Sarah stayed back to sort through all the suitcases full of things for the community (about 28 or so).

When the men returned, we put together bags for each of the teachers at the school, and then had a wonderful dinner of rice, pineapple, watermelon, beans, fried fish, and a kind of flat bread which I promise to learn the name of! After dinner, we had a Bible study on James, and then headed back to the guest house. It's so strange to be in an area that has so little of the technology we are used to, and yet to hear cell phones going off, or to come back to our room and be able to use the internet. I think it is time to go to bed now, though. We've got another long day ahead of us. It will be fun to experience a church service here!

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The eight of us will be leaving from Seattle on the 22nd, and flying to Entebbe by way of London. We will be arriving in Jinja on the 23rd, and will spend the rest of the day shopping in preparation for outreach. The following day we will also use to prepare. The 26th will be our first sunday in Uganda, and we will be attending a bush church service, and visiting other churches in the area. On the 27th we are visiting the Fountain of Hope school, and giving out supplies. The 28th-30th will be spent working on a construction project and doing outreach, and July 1st will be spent getting ready for the Sports Festival. July 2nd and 3rd will be spent helping out at the festival, with a showing of the Jesus Film saturday evening, and another bush church service sunday. July 4th through the 8th will be spent in outreach and construction, with optional bush home-stays with local families. The ninth will be a day for relaxing, before another bush service and church visits on the 10th. The 11th and 12th will be more outreach and construction, and we will depart Uganda on the 13th.

For more information on Grace Giving International and their work in Uganda, you can go to their website: www.gracegivinginternational.org

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How it all began...

It hasn't always been a dream of mine to go on a mission trip to Uganda. Don't get me wrong, I have never been opposed to it, and I have always been interested in travel. The idea of going to Africa on a mission trip simply had never crossed my mind. At least not seriously. But I suppose that is where my error was. My whole life, up until this year, has been essentially about what I want to do. Where I want to go. What I feel that I am gifted in. But last summer, I graduated from Clackamas High School, and in the fall I moved down to Corvallis to attend OSU. I was so excited to move into the House of Charis, which is an all-girls, Christian cooperative house. I was anticipating the forming of lifelong friendships, and the experience of living somewhere new, independent from everything I was familiar with. But the growth I have experienced this year as a person, and a daughter and bride of Christ far outreaches anything I could have imagined. 

About a year and a half ago, I began to feel a pull towards missions. I didn't know exactly what that would mean, and didn't really discuss it with anyone. Then, in the fall of 2010, it somehow became clear in my mind that missions were going to be a part of my life sometime in the following four or five years. I didn't know whether that would mean going on a long term mission, short term mission(s), or even where I was supposed to go. All I knew was that something was being set in motion in my life, and it was none of my own doing. Not long after this realization, in December, I was attending a worship night at another co-op in town, and all night, I couldn't think of anything but Africa. I had already learned enough in the preceding few months to know that God often works through those seemingly random thoughts that pop into your mind. And I knew I was going to Africa. Now, you might think, Africa is a big place, wanna narrow it down just a bit? But honestly, I was filled with so much excitement over the fact that God was calling me to Africa (and soon!), that I didn't really care how vague that call was. After all, Christ bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and we are therefor called to reach out to everyone. And what command could be more vague than that? Yet that makes it no less important.

A couple weeks later, that confidence was rewarded when my parents came down to visit and I talked to them about it. They were, of course, a bit skeptical, but not as much as I had expected! My dad mentioned Grace Giving International to me, telling me about how he had heard they were taking a team or two to different places in Africa this summer. I looked into the organization, and saw that they were taking two teams: one to Ethiopia, and one to Uganda. SO... I sent out an email to the director of their Uganda program, and the next thing I knew, I was all signed up to go this summer! It still seems so unreal, but there is not a doubt in my mind that big things are going to happen on this trip.