June 30, 2016

A Week of Struggles

The weekend before last I was anticipating the Steiners being away for almost a week nervously and excitedly.  I had no idea how it would go being in our house and making my way around town after having been here for only two weeks.  In many ways though, it was a much needed time to get my feet under me and to have to more or less fend for myself.  I'm certainly used to fending for myself back home in PA but here?  A totally different context and a much less familiar environment.  It was the time necessary to sort of launch myself into the communities at House of Prayer and Awinjo House especially.  The more I found my way around and spent time with people at these places, the more I saw God answering my prayers to more deeply embrace being here.  Towards the end of last week, I started to recognize the receptiveness that the mamas were extending towards me!

All week I spent a good deal of time praying and reading my Bible in the morning, going to House of Prayer for mid day worship and walking over to Awinjo House earlier in the afternoon rather than waiting until the kids got home from school at 4:30.  Visiting with the mamas, learning from each other and laughing together for a couple hours was so wonderful!  One of the afternoons, they were asking me to describe some things in the US--one mama asked me what houses and towns and villages are like.  When I said that we don't have villages and our houses are most often made of wood they cracked up!  Villages are a significant part of peoples' lives here and the thought of them not existing was so foreign.  And wooden houses?!  There are so many termites everywhere that a wooden house would crumble around itself in no time!  It's the seemingly insignificant every day things about life that seem to be the most different and the hardest to imagine...

In the midst of trying to connect myself more with people, I was internally struggling a great deal with being here and feeling super emotional about not being able to be in Haiti with the team who just went down!  I was feeling like I had just up and dropped everything in Haiti, my friends and "family", community, and work and feeling so confused about why in the world I am now in Uganda with no obvious purpose staring me in the face.  One of my deepest prayers has been to have at least some kind of direction or understanding about what God wants me to do here.  I know it's not ALL about what we can DO for Christ but rather it's about loving Him with all we are capable of but it seemed like having a sense of purpose would help me to be more present here.  I knew I had to leave Haiti and everything/everyone there in God's hands and surrender myself to His call here.  As the week progressed,  I felt more and more discouraged and frustrated that I had been here for the better part of a month and didn't have any clearer sense of what I should be doing in people's lives or even in my own.

And then somewhere along the way, I started to fully enjoy myself just spending time with people and looked forward to being at Awinjo.  There was an afternoon when I was walking on a back road between House of Prayer and Awinjo House; I was looking at all the beauty around me when it gently but clearly registered in my heart and mind where I am and how much God likely has in store for these next months or years or however long He has for me.  I was still struggling to "feel" the peace that I had during the months I was preparing to embark on this chapter but there was a knowing that I needed to adjust myself in my surroundings to align with God's leading rather than wonder if God's leading was really there.  It was a hard week spiritually and emotionally but so necessary; little did I know the change in me and my heart's response to my circumstances and God's answers to prayers that were coming....

June 16, 2016

Boda Ride of The Week!

I have not ridden bodas very much by myself yet and am not very familiar with routes to get places around town.  My worst boda fear is that I will get a driver who tells me he knows where to go and doesn't actually and then I will get lost because I don't know my way around well.  

This morning I was on my way to the House of Prayer to do some work in their library and I had the most exciting ride there yet!  I walked down our road, Tongue Avenue (haha!), to the main road and got a boda.  I asked him if he knew the Meratoria Hotel is which is the closest landmark to the House of Prayer and he said, yes I know.  So off we went.  There is a roundabout in the middle of town that we could either go left or straight at.  We didn't go left so I assumed he was going to go straight but nope, we just kept going.  We ended up turning in the opposite direction from where we needed to instead of just going all the way through the roundabout which would have been the smart thing to do.  Immediately I freaked out and thought to myself, now what?! I don't know how to tell him to go from here! I don't know which roads connect!  Uhhhhhh!  So I quick told him to turn left down to the market street while I tried to think of where to go next.  We took another left to head back in the direction we came and again didn't know if we needed to turn or go straight.  :/ We started straight through the next intersection and then, we came to an immediate stop!  

There I was a mzungu sitting on the back of a boda stalled right in the middle of the intersection!!  My worst fear just got worse!  If you have ever been to a country where you stick out like a sore thumb then you know how hard it is to not always feel like you're on display and being stared at.  I just ya know, wanted to draw a little more attention to myself... ;) The driver tried to start his bike over and over again with no success.  All around the curbs, other bodas were shouting and laughing and speeding past us.  After all of a minute or so, I slid off the side of the boda and the driver walked it to the side of the road.  No sooner was I about to get on a different boda to go the rest of the way, than the original one got his boda started.  So I got back on and once again took a wrong turn! We quickly turned around and there was my landmark right ahead.  I pointed out the hotel so the driver knew where it was then and in 30 seconds we were at House of Prayer.  I've walked from the market to the HOP several times so I don't know why it didn't occur to me to just walk the rest of the way but I didn't.  But there you go! The excitement of getting lost and breaking down on a boda! I hope it doesn't become a regular occurrence...

June 13, 2016

Some Bits of Daily Life

I love how Ugandans greet each other!  One way is like a secret handshake that isn't so secret cause everyone knows it.  It goes like this: 

And the other way is like the French or Haitian greeting with a kiss on each cheek except instead of a kiss it's a warm embrace on each side!  So great!    
When I arrive at Awinjo House I can always count on warm hug greetings from the mamas.  Now if I can only remember all their names...  

Some of the children run and hug me or just ask to play or sit next to me or whatever kids do.  Others will come up to me with silent solemn faces, take my right hand and kneel in front of me and bow their head and then stand up.  I think I need to learn why the difference and what my response should be and anything else related to greetings that I don't know.

Bodas (motorcycle taxi):  
What can I say about bodas?  Sometimes they are crazy drivers sometimes they are slow and careful.  I've never felt unsafe even when riding behind one who is a faster, less cautious driver.  It's exhilarating!  And of course, easy to find one because they all want to give the mzungu (white person) a ride, sometimes a little too much.   Mzungu can be heard calling after us everywhere we go and very often it is bodas or shop owners trying to get our business.  Most will accept the going rate for a ride but every so often, the driver will insist on the "mzungu" rate.  So hard to decide if I want to give them the extra 500 shillings or so ($.15) or not give in to the higher rate just because of my skin color. 

I am so thankful, our Ugandan friend Boaz has found a boda to drive me to and from Awinjo House so I don't have to worry about having regular transportation!  His name is Job and he is the safe, slow, careful kind... not to worry!  But even so, if you think to, keep us in your prayers as it's still a motorcycle through busy chaotic roads.  Most of the time we take the scenic route that is much less busy but of course there are still cows roaming around that we could hit and you never know, a monkey could drop out of the trees onto my head...   ;)  
There are not nearly as many mosquitoes as I thought but all it takes is one and you could have malaria.  So, they all must DIE!  The Steiners have mini tennis rackets that have a button on the handle.  When you push the button electricity goes through the face of the racket.  When you hit a mosquito with it, it gets zapped and dies instantly!  In the evenings especially, when we are sitting inside, there is always a mosquito zapper on hand.  Somehow I still manage to stink at killing them but I'm getting better!  
At Awinjo House:
When I arrive at Awinjo House at 4:30, the youngest children have gotten home from school and are taking turns hand washing his/her own uniform so that it is clean for the next day.  They have to pump water from the ground into the cisterns and then they lug the water in 3-5 gallon buckets on their heads to wear the washing area is.  Once they wash their uniforms, we play games, sing songs, sit on the grass and talk, sometimes I share stories or teach them about different things, like what eye glasses are for.  They love to be as close to me as possible and would all sit on top of me if there was room for them to all fit!  But most often, one small girl who rarely smiles, named Barbara, has my lap or at the very least, my hand in both of hers while the others touch some other reachable part of me.  I am excited to get to know them and to let them get to know me as time goes on and they begin to trust me.
The rooster!:
Our landlady, Rose Mary, does not have any chickens right now as the others have been butchered but of course, there is a rooster!  Supposedly he is being saved for a special occasion. He is large and ugly-- I recently learned that there is a kind of chicken that doesn't grow hair on their necks so he just has a plump feathery body with a scrawny, red, featherless neck.  My bedroom window looks onto the courtyard; there is a walkway parallel to the back of the house and then some low bushes that line the walkway.  Every morning before it is even light out, sometimes in the middle of the night, he begins his constant repeated crowing directly on the other side of the bush, right in front of my window!  WHY?! OH WHY?!  The other day, "Scrawny Ronny" one of the ugliest dogs I've ever seen was teasing the rooster and chasing him around the yard.  I wish it was acceptable for me to do something like that... haha!  I have decided that I am going to ask Rose Mary if I can help butcher him when she has an occasion for it!! I've never had a burning desire to butcher an animal until now...

June 7, 2016

A Great Spiritual Challenge

I'm going to attempt a more personal, spiritual post here to let you in on one example of what God has been doing in me since arriving in Uganda.

I was once told that God is much more concerned about the condition of each individuals heart than He is about what you can do or accomplish for Him.  Doing things for the glory of God in the world is wonderful but each person's heart condition is really what He cares about because ultimately that is what is eternal.

Here in Uganda, God is continuing to mold me and shape and grow my heart and faith in ways I dared not imagine would be accomplished in this lifetime.  I remember a while back my pastor at Christ Community Bible Church shared about a man of God (I think he's well known but the name escapes me) who once saw Satan in physical form in his room at night.  The man woke, saw Satan there and said something along the lines of, "oh it's you" and rolled over and went to sleep knowing that by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, Satan could do nothing without God allowing it.

I have been here for a week and a couple of days and sleep has been a consistent struggle since I arrived.  For about the first week, every time I would head to bed I would have this eerie, unsettled feeling that Satan was there lurking somewhere in my room.  Not a physical being but a presence that I didn't like and would keep me awake praying for a hedge of protection around me, my room, the Steiners, our home, our compound.  Praying Satan away by the power of Jesus Christ.  Praying for peace and comfort and the undoubted presence of God.  And praying for sleep to come.  This would go on for quite sometime before falling asleep and sometimes I would wake up in the night feeling unsettled again and it would take a while for me to fall asleep.

A couple nights ago I was so exhausted and just plain old sick of this unsettled feeling I would have before going to bed.   I was praying, Praying, PRAYING and got so frustrated that I just stopped.  All of a sudden it came to me that Satan could be in the midst of struggles at various times throughout this time in Uganda and frankly why should I care?  I'm here because God has brought me here.  God is almighty and there's nothing Satan can do to stop what God has already planned.  So, I said this, Fine Satan stay. You can't touch me because my God is great and almighty and power and I don't have to fear you.  I rolled over and went to sleep.

Just tonight I remembered pastor Jeff sharing the story of the man who did something similar and remembered praying over a period of time that one day I would have the depth of faith in God to be able to do the same if ever faced with that situation.  Praise the Lord Almighty who has filled me with so much of Himself over these past months that this prayer has been answered!!!  I continue to be crippled by lack of courage and fear of what others will think in many other aspects of my faith for which I am not proud.  I am on a journey of being strengthened and challenged by Joshua chapter 1 especially this, "Only be strong and very courageous... for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  This chapter in Joshua got me through the last week before departing for Uganda and continues to be a wonderful challenge and encouragement on this side of the world too.

Is God bringing you into an intense challenge that brings you to your knees (or an equivalent) in fear or apprehension or anxiety?  Be encouraged!

June 5, 2016

Goings on from the beginning

This week feels like it has been so much longer than only a week.  I'm thinking it has much to do with all the things I have done that are not a part of my daily life in the States as well as because my new environment is pretty well nothing like where I just came from.  Life back in PA and VT is very far away not just in distance but in culture, environment, climate, everything.

Thankfully I planned to just spend this week acclimating myself and resting because even with those things being the only things on the agenda, I have been exhausted.  Adjusting to my surroundings is going to take much more than a week to be sure but I have had a sweet house mate to show me around some!   Here are some things that I have been up to...

We have ridden bodas (motorcycle taxis) to market for food several times.  I have never been to a market quite like the one here in Tororo.  It is accessible from various parts of town but we have entered through a short, tiny alley lined with women selling spicy greens that goes between some shops in the middle of town.  All around town there are deep gutters for water flow during the rainy season.  (We even have one around our house like a tiny moat!)  Anyway, in order to go from the street to any shops or the market, we have to step across the "moat."  The market is a very uneven concrete floor with lots of humps and potholes to trip over.  It is made up of large concrete "tables" that checker the whole open area.  Each seller has a concrete "table" in which to mound their wares of fruits and vegetables, wooden paddles and spoons, wooden stools, woven mats, pottery, spices, and many other things yet to be discovered.  It is covered with a tin roof held up by large round wooden poles making it quite dark inside.  My eyes always take a while to adjust to the huge light contrast from the darkness to the bright sunlight of the outside.  It has a unique smell, not bad nor good.  Out the back of the market, it continues into another section with people selling prepared foods, other varieties of vegetables, pots, shoes, clothes, repair shops, etc.  This section is not as dark as the other part, as it is covered with cloth and is not so snug.  I love walking through the market and I look forward to discovering more of what's around town!

The Steiners have a foster baby, Hellen, that they got from one of the orphanages in town, Smile Africa.  Her birthday was in May so on Tuesday afternoon I went to Smile with Jia, Hellen, and Dustin to celebrate all the May birthdays with the kids there.  It is a really large open compound with buildings around the outside and a pavilion to one side.  I met a few of the kids when I first arrived as they began to gather in a circle in the pavilion.  We then went to visit the babies home so Hellen could see some of her friends.  It broke my heart to see all those babies and toddler knowing that they are there because they were orphaned, abandoned, or had families who simply couldn't take care of them.  There were two really young babies, only weeks old, and they were so so tiny, laying in their huge bundles of clothes and blankets despite the heat with bottles laid next them so they could eat as they fell asleep.  We didn't stay long but enough for me to wish I could take them all home with me and love on each one of them and give them a good start to life.  Even in that place, they were in a better environment than wherever they came from.  Jia told me that the Ugandan woman who started Smile has found babies in trash cans, pit latrines, and on the side of the road.  What a miracle that God has at least given them a second chance at life in a place where they can grow in safety and not wonder if they are going to eat that day.  I have since made one other visit to Smile.  Moriah, Jia, myself, and the girls went to play with and care for the babies for a few hours.  I loved being able to do something so simple as holding a baby, help a toddler to learn how to walk, change some diapers and wet clothes and put on diaper cream.  It's sometimes the simple things that can make such a difference.

Wednesday afternoon we all went over to Awinjo House so I could meet papa Ken and see the home where I would be spending time!  As soon as I entered the compound I felt the sense of peace and safety and place of healing that it is.  The grounds are beautiful, simple, and inviting with flowering bushes and fruit trees, a swing, and room for the kids to run and play and relax in the shade.  I met just a few of the children before sitting to visit with Ken and get an idea of the more specific needs and things that I can do to bless the children, mamas, and papa Ken.  Soon after we arrived, papa Ken shared with us that there was a boy who had lived at Awinjo House for the last five years.  They had been searching for his family this whole time and just a week ago they found his family! His mom and a brother at least.  They wanted to and were able to bring him back home!!!  On Tuesday, Isaiah was reunited with his family after five years of waiting to know if they were alive or dead!  Praise God!!  He was so excited to be at home again!

As we sat and visited and talked about the goings on at Awinjo, papa Ken shared with me that there are two children there, Barbara and Dennis, who came to live there about five months ago.  He doesn't know when their birthdays are but is guessing they are 7ish and 5ish.  The government brought them the day after their mom, their last living relative, passed away.  Papa Ken has asked me to especially tend to this brother and sister as they are continuing to suffer a great deal in their circumstances.  Please pray for these dear children who have no family except those at Awinjo House.  They are dear children with a lot of pain and suffering in their hearts that comes out in their serious faces.  Perhaps God has brought me to Awinjo House especially for them.  I don't know what God has for our future together but I certainly have a heart desire to love on them in any way I can.  

And one more story for now.

Thursday morning I went with Jia to another organization called the International House of Prayer.  This ministry provides an education and training for people to be sent as missionaries into their communities and villages specifically to bring the gospel to Muslims.  It seems like a really wonderful place and educational opportunity!  The students are on holiday right now so there aren't many people around right now but there is still work to be done.  There is a large open room designated for their lunch hour and worship time and best of all, to just pray!  All day for anyone who wants to use it!  There, I made my first Ugandan friend, Flavia!  She works there doing mostly administrative things and her family was also there.  She was so welcoming and genuine!  As we talked and worked, Flavia ended up inviting me to be a part of their worship team during their lunch hour and to give some of the devotionals for them!  I don't necessarily enjoy public speaking but I have sensed that this is an aspect of using my spiritual gifts that God is growing in me and I'm excited for the potential opportunities to bless them by serving in this way!  Later that evening, Jia and I went to visit Flavia at home.  We drank Ugandan tea and talked and played a game.  For those of you who were subjected to my first go at Ugandan tea before I left PA, I'M SO SORRY!  I did not do it justice at all!  I promise to do my best, when I'm next in the US, to bless you with real Ugandan tea!  It's amazing!!

 I have a few more stories from this weekend but I'll save them for another post.

June 4, 2016

True and False Expectations

As I sit here trying to think of how I'm going to compile my thoughts and things that have been happening here this first week, I have officially decided that I simply can't write about everything unless I write every day.  This might have to be several postings so bear with me...

Uganda is breathtakingly beautiful and I have only seen a small corner of it!  If you have read my page about serving in Uganda, you'll have read about a dream that was significant in the process of God leading me here.  The picture from my dream is exactly what it is like here!  The roads or rather any dirt visible to the eye which is a lot as only 4% of the roads here are paved are a bright orangey red!  Dirty feet? Red!  Dirty skirt hems? Red! Dirty shoes? Red! Dirty floors? Red! Dirty outside walls, cars, dusty plants? Red!  You get the idea.  But rather than brown or gray dust that I'm used to and is rather ugly, everything has a bit of color that is somehow more beautiful just because it's red.  The contrast next to the lush brilliant foliage, flowering plants and trees is well, awesome!

One of my first impressions of Uganda is that in some ways, it is much more developed than I expected to find it.  Especially driving from Matoke Inn to Tororo I expected to see mounds of trash and disarray, dilapidated buildings, unique smelling markets, rough roads, animals here there and everywhere, etc that I have frequently seen in other places.  However, either I didn't notice it or there was much less than I imagined because even in Kampala I saw clean streets, orderly traffic, even landscaping!  There were many things that I fully expected to see and others that caught me by surprise.  For example some homes had glass windows and "fancy" roofs even out in villages.  What I have since come to learn is that an aspect of what I was seeing is the huge contrast between the wealthy and those in poverty.  I have continued to see houses including the one I live in that are much nicer than I expected to find here as well as houses that are mud brick with tin roofs as I expected (and saw in my dream).

There's a part of me that feels guilty for living in a house as nice as what I have been blessed with especially seeings how the largest family in my compound lives in the smallest, "worst" living space of us all.    Sometimes I look out my kitchen window across the courtyard and see the small mud brick house that has white plaster on the outside and wish that I could trade homes with them.  I often feel like I should be living among the people I pictured myself here to serve, alongside them in a mud brick house if that's where they live and then I remind myself that not only do I live next door to a missionary family but also in a compound with four Ugandan families that I see and interact with every day.  These are the people that God has placed me to live alongside for this time and so I must be present in that and seek God as I do so.  I am slowly getting to know them all: our landlady Rose Mary and her daughter Aden, who has a dress shop in town;  Zipporah a young woman my age who lives by herself; a mother and her daughter and her nanny; and a family with three boys and a girl; Dustin, Moriah, their daughters and a Ugandan foster baby; and Jia, my awesome housemate!  This is the smaller community God has brought me too!  I am so blessed to live in this place and now I want to do what I can to bless those I am here with!

As I continue to have my expectations be affirmed or falsified, I wish that it were possible to not have any expectations at all.  All of that to say, I am loving learning about and seeing this place for what it is and having my initial thoughts set to right.  Even down to something so ordinary as the fact that there is a golf course, two swimming pools, and catering available in Tororo, who knew... ;)