Saturday, September 29, 2012

Prayer blitz

These past few days have presented a few key prayer requests. Would you be willing to lift these things up with us?

1) The opportunity to send refugees to Passion has exploded: 90 people and seven staff signed up to go tonight! (It's around 11 AM CST.) This is nothing short of awesome. There will also be a Q & A session next week to answer people's questions about what they heard. Can you believe it?! Would be grateful for prayers for protection of the event, for clear and potent message of the speakers, for God moving in mighty ways, and for wisdom for John and I next week during the Tuesday Q & A.

 2) John has malaria. We think likely was acquired on his surveying trip. Yesterday was particularly tough. I have never seen him this sick. But thankfully, he may be on the upswing. So very grateful for a cure for such a terrible disease.

Thanks for praying, friends.

Friday, September 28, 2012

So generous.

They are here--my parents are here!

And you would have thought, by the looks of my living room, that it was Christmas. A lot of this, actually, was thanks to your generosity. I am nothing short of floored at the kindness of friends who asked what we could use and what they could send. If I run out of parmesan cheese, deodorant, or felt-tip markers in the next year, it is my own fault. (Or at least my remarkably creative three-year-old's.) John and I have been overwhelmed by how we are so "sent", in the Romans 10 sense, by so many of you: care packages, e-mails, blog comments, prayers, Facebook messages. We are both feeling deeply humbled by the extent to which you hold up our arms.

Already we are stockpiling so many great memories with family here, and there are still moments that I look across and am again surprised that I am seeing these people I love, these people with history, sitting across from me. As they experience this--and as John's parents will in just a few weeks!!--sharing this place with them makes us feel inestimably understoood and loved.

Some of the best moments so far have been handing out one by one the gifts they brought for our Ugandan staff. Most don't have a Bible of their own, and my parents found some, then had them engraved with each person's name. (Serious kudos to the Mardel guy who imprinted twelve Ugandan full names without error.)  Handing the eMi guards or cook or housekeepers their own Bible was a precious snapshot in time, as my parents thanked them for taking care of us and watched the incredulous white smiles spread across the open, kind faces of our friends. But even more so was the moment they saw their own name on the Bible--something I haven't seen here. The looks of amazement and appreciation on those friends we love so well was something I think I'll remember for a long time.

So it was a special treat today that an article I wrote at least a year ago in tribute to them was published today on What My Parents Taught Me About Generosity.  It was a rich gift of God to be able to sit here tonight, in the quiet of our Ugandan living room, and read this to them.

We have a generous God.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Honey, have you seen my T-shirt?

It was two weeks ago when I saw it while I walked down Kiwafu Road. A young Ugandan guy, early twenties. Black T-shirt. Puffy painted: Squad up!, whatever that means, in undoubtedly some U.S. junior high or high school girl's bubbly handwriting. Lots of little pearlescent squiggles and other perky designs to encourage that school spirit at cheer camp or wherever. In the U.S., it would take a very secure man to wear that shirt.

One of the curious aspects living in Uganda are--seriously--the T-shirts. So many of the Salvation Army/Goodwill clothes from the U.S. end up here, and a whole lot of them are T-shirts: from the high school play, the corporate family day, the J.V. football team, the chili cook-off. Names listed on the back, sometimes; locations that the people who wear them may never have heard of. If you've ever wondered what happened to your family reunion shirt that you just couldn't bring yourself to wear twice, my neighbor may be wearing it. Sometimes when a repairman or a man in the market is wearing a junior high girls volleyball T-shirt or the one from the Hello, Dolly! high school musical, I tilt my head to the side a little in my mind. Somehow, it seems familiar. And yet very, very foreign.

John covertly took a photo on his (now broken) phone at church of a Ugandan guy wearing a flamboyant "Don't Mess with Texas!" shirt. I saw a girl wearing an Arkansas Razorbacks T-shirt at a coffee shop, and I almost went up and hugged her, just because.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The tooth

Monica met me at the gate last week, her arms full of the delectable homemade peanut butter which she sells, which our family could possibly keep in business single-handedly. My kids always get excited for her carmel-colored little plastic jars. Monica has a radiant, nearly ever-present smile, ironic considering the tremendous road she has walked in her life.

When I asked her there at the gate about her daughter, who is usually away at boarding school, her smile turned downward. Her daughter had a toothache--a bad one. The tooth needed to be removed. She was in pain 24/7, and couldn't eat anything. Her daughter is only sixteen or so, so I was sorry to hear this.

This is very common here. There are many gaps in wide Ugandan smiles, a good handful missing even the front tooth. Dental care is costly when you can't always afford to eat, and Ugandans like a lot of sugar in their tea. In fact last week, since our family still in the tooth-losing phase--the good kind--at our house, J. was delighted to report that one of the guards had lost a tooth in front. Definitely not as fun when you are an adult.

Monica was concerned about the cost of removing the tooth. But apparently, she needn't be. On Friday when I checked up with her, she happily recounted that her daughter was able to find a dentist who usually worked on prisoners, so was thrilled to help a schoolgirl in uniform for only 3000 Ugandan shillings. That's about $1.25. She even got a shot of Novocaine to go with the deal, though from the sounds of it, she might have needed an antibiotic and a stitch, too.

A dollar twenty-five. Shoot. I wondered, are we overpaying in the U.S.?

And then I wondered, do you want your tooth pulled by the guy who treats prisoners and is happy to do it for $1.25?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Death next door

Author's note: This post does, indeed, talk about death and a few surrounding traditions here. Just a heads up for the squeamish.

Last week around lunchtime, I heard loud wailing coming from the neighborhood behind our house. Someone, it was clear, needed help. It sounded like they were running back and forth down the lane, screaming. I didn't even know how to get over to the neighborhood behind and below us, so I was wondering what to do.  I grabbed Oliver, and we listened at the back wall to see if she could interpret what the woman was yelling.

"Her mother has died," Oliver said softly.

As we talked, we decided together that Oliver would go down to visit them, and see what she could do to comfort the family. There are times here when my foreignness only compounds issues--e.g. my lack of knowledge of death customs, my immature knowledge of the local language.  Interestingly enough, the house behind us is low enough that we look over the roof, the neighbors have only rarely been seen outside, and I haven't known how to get there until this week. (Bad missionary!) But I have learned that some situations are opportunities for Oliver's ministry rather than mine. Does that sound like a cop-out? Maybe it is. But it is also true that I am here to empower Ugandans, not to march in with my rather loud Caucasian American presence, even when no words are spoken. And Oliver, being an orphan, had immediate recognition and compassion for the woman in an obvious tirade of grief at the house below us.

When Oliver returned an hour or so later, she explained. The daughter had enjoyed dinner with her mother the night before, they'd had conversation over hearty portions of food. The next day, the daughter had avoided going back in the house, respecting her mother's wishes to not open the door in the morning but let her sleep.

Around lunchtime was when the door was finally broken down, and the mother lay curled and now hardened in a position of sleep.

How does one respond to this kind of tragedy--so far removed, yet so close?

It has been eye-opening to observe and discuss Ugandan traditions of death, even from afar. The next morning when Oliver returned to check on the family, she wrapped an opaque shawl around her jeans. "I need to be decent," she explained. "I am not going to a party." This falls in line with the Ugandan sensitivity to women's legs (no knees shown in skirts or shorts; always wear a slip beneath a skirt), and modesty for special occasions, like wives covering their arms when in-laws visit.

There have been odd things this week, like the loud music till three or four A.M. as the relatives converge and enjoy one another. But most things have been somber--like the idea of a wake being held in one's own house, especially with limited body preservation. I realize that this has been done throughout time, which makes me the odd one. But still.

Also curious was Oliver's explanation of the care of the body. Often patients near death are sent home from the hospital, simply because it's more economical for transportation, in a country where funds are so scarce and post-mortem services are pricey and out of reach for most Ugandans. I have yet to see a hearse or funeral in Kampala, a city of approximately 2 million people. You can hire a taxi for a person who is sick, explained Oliver. It's not as easy or inexpensive otherwise.

Perhaps the most painful part of this is watching Oliver relive losing her own mother when she was 16. After walking gingerly and painfully with my husband through the intimate horror of his mom's unexpected passing, I have come to realize that there is something about the death of a parent, particularly prematurely, that tears something deep inside. It may take years and years to heal--if it does heal. Oliver has stared out the kitchen window this week as she washes dishes, trying to put to words how the daughter next door must be feeling: the denial, the lack of physical resources (who will watch my child when I work?), the anguish of the soul.

Yesterday, when the deceased was brought back from the autopsy--again, more wailing--Oliver recounted what most Ugandans must do themselves: washing and dressing the body. Her still-living grandmother has had to bathe and dress the bodies of five of her children. "Can you imagine?" she asked me.

No. I cannot. I cannot imagine bathing the grown-up bodies of the child I washed gently as an infant, grinning and cooing at them with their little bird bellies and bald heads in the kitchen sink, smelling of Johnson & Johnson as their limbs jerk with the excitement and unwieldy limbs of new life. I cannot imagine being the one who survives, who must perform even this last act of admission that this is real, this ending of life.

Situations like these make my own heart yell with their wrongness. It should not be this way! God's original intent for the world was so much more than this!

This family has found itself in my prayers this week, as I hear the cries of children over the walls, or see evidences of the house waking up, remembering all over again what is lost. So, at the risk of sounding crass as they enter a new phase defined by "before" and "after", I find myself with added focus for what must be done: Praying for the kingdom to come soon, and asking God for it to come here, in this world, little by little, life by life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Truly African

Some of my favorite moments with Oliver pop up when she is singing a well-loved hymn as she works around the house—in Luganda. Not being able to resist a tune I love with so much rich history in my own life and in our faith, and yet painfully elementary in my Luganda, I join in singing in English. We cheerily sing alongside each other. At the end, she always smiles and says something like, “Who taught you that?” Like it was her song to begin with. Which makes me laugh.

It makes me thankful, at those moments and also when I’m driving down the road past the churches here, for all the missionaries who’ve come before me. You know, the ones who brought their coffins with them, and said goodbye to their families without the balm of even spotty Skype or British Airways or typhoid shots. Those who didn’t know how they would die, but knew they would die here, and would likely die young. They’re people who came into these rainforests before the roads were paved, or maybe had roads at all. Their white faces were the first some tribes had ever seen. They taught hymns that yes, were full of European culture, but whose words continue to transform a people, and more importantly, allow them to praise in their own tongue the God who made them the beautiful Africans they are.

A remarkable Tim Keller podcast on culture (#27 here) recently mentioned a book, Whose Religion Is Christianity? written, in fact, by an African. And this is what I love. The man addresses the opinion that those of us who bring Christianity to Africa—and in light of what I’ve mentioned, I consider myself among the least!—are destroying African culture. As one who finds Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible a formidable caution, this intrigues me. The author counters that this argument says that Christianity is for some cultures, but not for all.

Every culture has its own strengths, its own display of the image of God. Africa, for one, has always known that there are powerful spiritual forces in the world, he says (via Keller, via me, at any rate. My apologies to both). The businessman, then, who comes in and says that there are no spiritual forces, that it’s a bunch of bunk, is practicing a manner of cultural totalitarianism. But Christianity not only acknowledged those forces, but gave them true, real hope and power for those spiritual forces. (This, in fact, I have seen, in light of the child sacrifice that still causes bodies to wash up on the banks of the Nile, and from the numerous disturbing stories of friends.) As this author challenges, Christianity revives culture to be their fullest form of themselves--as it did for my own ancestors, and as it does for me. Christianity makes Africa truly African.

So though those hymns Oliver happily sings in her airy alto may be an evidence of European culture, they remind me of the powerful work God is doing here. For centuries before me and Oliver, He has been breathing new life into peoples whom He had loved and not forgotten even when the rest of the world didn’t know their names, or only wanted what they can get. I love that God loves and has loved Africa, in its truest sense.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Art Lessons

One the most fascinating aspects of growing (a little) older are the ways we learn more about the very specific ways God’s created us, coming into our own through varied seasons of life. I am wowed by this.

In me, motherhood, of course, has revealed and taught and developed so many uniquenesses in my own life, unfolding strengths and certainly weaknesses I was clueless I had. And Uganda has pulled my family’s cross-cultural skills out of the shed, pruning and shaping and dumping Miracle-Gro on them. Or take homeschooling, which if you would have asked me ten years ago if I would attempt, I would have mentally laughed out loud. But now, I can’t believe what a particular need it fills for my family. No, I don’t own any jumpers, and no, I sure don’t plan on my kids winning any national spelling bees. But I would have never seen God blow the doors off all the ways He’d made me and our family that are pitch-perfect for this task.

Sometimes I wish that in a previous season of my life, when I had the opportunity to be trained in ways I was very interested and even gifted—like taking more art classes in high school and college—I’d seized the moment there. Instead I’d been focused on taking the right college-prep classes, or classes I knew would be useful (i.e. New Testament Greek—still glad I took it!) rather than enjoyable. But God had control of that, too.

Now, I’m in a bit more of an “Eric Liddel” phase—as in, understanding the worship-like notes of his quote “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” I am fascinated by the things in each person that they innately enjoy doing because they were designed to enjoy them. These are ways that we revel in things that aren’t always useful or efficient or practical at first glance, but of course, are useful in other ways. The red or yellow cannas that push themselves from the soil here in Uganda’s rainforests, unseen by any human eye, have fulfilled their purpose in life just by being, flourishing to God. But as for me, the sketchbook I bought at least a decade ago has only a dozen pages filled: not because I don’t love sketching, but because so often I’ve found activities, even hobbies that more directly benefit someone else somehow. (Forget that my enjoyment in something and using those gifts simply honors God, right?)

Maybe that’s why it took a little five-year-old who looks a lot like Shirley Temple at the right moments—and hungers for creativity in all forms, like her momma (ahem, including the occasional disorganization)—to dig out the sketchbook I’d stuffed in one of our bags coming over here. The last two Sundays have found us huddled together on the back porch with our sketchbooks, grinning over a drawing lesson. For five years old, she’s pretty good. And the ways her art “portfolio” continues to overflow out of its pouch and all over her room in messy stacks reminds me of my own love for following the first Creator, for expressing that image buried deep in each of us. Books like Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff have encouraged me to cultivate beauty much like God commanded Adam in the Garden. I find encouragement that Jesus Himself was a carpenter, taking the raw material of wood and “cultivating” its more chaotic form into useable, presumably attractive order. (And it was before Jesus had done any formal ministry that God said He was “well pleased.”) Perhaps it is good that I am learning this here, where the sheer volume of work/ministry to do can be overwhelming, tempting me to be all about what is difficult rather than what also brings God pleasure and follows Him.

So I’ve been tickled pink—salmon? Coral? Carnation?—to now be teaching art not only to my own kids, but also the fourteen-and-growing kids at our newly-minted eMi homeschooling co-op. To demonstrate the “theology of creativity” in sly ways like making a color-wheel gecko has already been a delicious delight, not to mention an excuse to complete an example art project every week. Picking out shades of green from the kids’ box of colored pencils yesterday gave me disproportionate glee, and I admit to wearing long skirts and dangly earrings to look my new part. My younger sister is a (real) art teacher in England, and someday when I grow up maybe I’ll be as creative as she is. As I’ve settled more into the deep, secure love I’ve found my marriage and in God, I have determined that creativity is often composed of the necessary ingredient of courage.

May you have the courage and resources to create today.

Oh, say, can you survey? Part ssatu--from John

Along with the Gospel in the developing world —and because of it!—we must pursue partnerships and the intentional development of engineering and design professionals and programs. This was one of the sentiments that hung with me (John) from our eMi staff conference one year ago.  

And this summer, I got to experience it. As of August 3rd, eMi East Africa—in partnership with eMi Canada—finished a six-week course pouring practical survey knowledge into the minds of Ugandan college students.  I spent more than four weeks in the classroom and on the grounds of Kyambogo University here in Kampala.

I got to be on both ends of the exchange as I performed the role of administrator and aid for the course, but was also a student.   Five other Ugandans and I were privileged to sit under the experienced tutelage of eMi volunteer Patrick Cochrane and learn the practical ins and outs of surveying on many varieties of equipment: RTK GPS, Total Stations, Theodolites, data collectors. The students received more time on equipment in those 4 weeks than in all their previous three years of studying surveying.  We also navigated the beginnings of drafting our surveys.  

But one of my favorite moments was actually the devotional time all the guys--at varying levels of commitment to Christianity--took turns leading. I don't know that I'll easily forget the morning one of the guys forgot it was his turn and poked me, which found me cracking open my Bible with them to one of my favorite, life-defining passages: Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

After weeks rubbing shoulders with these guys, most of them typical male (Ugandan) college students, it was an incredible chance to tell them some of my story, and what the Gospel looked like--particularly in my life. eMi is mostly a support ministry to other organizations; directly sharing Christ with people is not as frequent an opportunity as some missionaries have it. But the ensuing conversations with these guys as we interacted over this passage was a unique privilege.

A week later, taking the practicum to the field, we spent 7 days in the thick bush surveying 500 acres on Restoration Gateway’s ministry site in rural Uganda. (I returned by myself last weekend to tie up some loose ends regarding the survey of the river there, and I'm now there for a week with the design team from North America.) We learned a lot about surveying, but also about each other, and how our faith crosses cultures.

There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I was learning more about surveying or about the culture of Ugandan college students.

Some reflections:

·         Atkins what? You can eat pounds of starch at every meal and still have less than 10% body fat.

·         I still don’t understand the importance of dowries.  But talking about them along with other gender issues generates a truly lively discussion among Ugandans.

·         Talking politics isn’t so challenging when you can keep yourself a bit removed and don’t do the talking.

·         Some jokes translate, some don’t.   But explaining a joke still kills the humor.

·         Despite our very real problems, I really value America and despite putting on a neutral posture, I am more sensitive to its criticism than I would have thought.

·         Asking “why” takes observation to a whole new level of learning.

·         I have taken for granted how much we in America have a culture rich in education.   There is very real value in this that I don’t know how to properly describereal value that allows us to increase our positions professionally, technologically, and otherwise.  We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us growing from the knowledge that has previously been discovered and integrated. Even those of us who might not have finished college, or even high school, absorbed more than some college educations, simply from living a culture that is saturated with education.   I have a new level of gratefulness for my education, but even more for my parents and grandparents generations and what they have imparted to us.

·         Character and heart transcends culture.   We all bleed red regardless of our skin color or the colors of our flag.  Some students were hard working, some not so much.   Some were more aware of others around them, some weren’t.   Some were gracious, some were entitled.   Some were haughty, some were meek.  Working with 5 students in another culture was difficult in some respects and very rewarding in many.   Spending some much time with these guys, it was challenging to get my head around their ways of interacting and understanding their experiences.  But it was comforting in one aspect, underneath their culture and life experiences, they were more familiar to me than I would have thought.   And each of them, no matter how likable or wanting their character was, have the same needs I have: needs for love, belonging, kindness, need to be known, to be forgiven, need to use or lives for a greater purpose than satisfying our own appetites.   

Final reflection: Not unlike the Bible belt of America, or my own heart at times, the gospel of grace is sometimes a shallow, missing, or forgotten concept in the daily faith of those who call themselves Christians.   But daily devotions together and preaching the gospel over and over to each other was one of the highlights of my time with my new Ugandan friends.

Praying for Passion

This post has been removed for security purposes. Please continue to pray for Passion Kampala, Saturday, September 29!