Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The One Year Interview

Today's the day--we've been in Uganda an entire year.

There are a thousand reflections I could share with you on this day. But for fun, I thought I'd interview the kids for their perspective.

For the record—B. is 8 now, W. is newly 7, C. is 5, and J. is 3.

Why did we move here, do you think?

C: We are going to help Ugandans know God.

W: We are going to build some things.

What things do you like about living Uganda?

B: We can buy things with our very own money since they’re right down the street.

C: We can get packages in the mail!

W, C, and J: We have more friends, and they’re not very far away.

B: We can find igneous rocks! [Like the one Daddy just brought home from Kilimanjaro…technically not in Uganda.]

C: We can raise money for eMi [through Kilimanjaro].

W: That I have a little [decorative] canoe from the craft market! And that I live in a compound, so I can go out in the front yard! Safaris are the best thing about Uganda! And that we have a tire swing we can swing on whenever we want. And the avocadoes and all the different kinds of animals and birds, like ibises. Our climbing tree.

J: I do like safaris, and the two scooters we have now. I like Zac.

What are things you miss about living in the U.S.?

W: The power would always stay on, and we could carve pumpkins. I miss visiting Grandma every week.

B: I miss the state fair.

C: I miss the parades, and playing on the playground [there are few playgrounds in Uganda].

Who are people that you really enjoy in Uganda?

W and B: Oliver, Zane, Jonathan, Lachie, Maddie, Sophia, and Janet. Yokaneh, Joseph, and Julius, and Moses, and Patrick [our night and weekend guards].

J: Zac. And Yokaneh and Julius!

C: Evelyn, Leah (she’s not here any more), Sophia, Mercy, Haven, and Hannah. And Oliver! And Yokaneh, and Patrick, and Wilson, and Moses [guards], and Stephen [Ugandan eMi staff].

Who are people you really miss from the U.S.?

C: I miss my friends. And Emma and Drew and Sophie (cousins) and Miss Rebecca. And all my aunts and uncles. And everybody!

W and C and B: Grandmas and grandpas!

W: Emma and Drew and Sophie! We have never seen Sophie!

What are some things you see here that you hadn’t seen before you moved here—that you think are interesting?

W: Ndizi (little, finger-like bananas) and animals, like chickens and monkeys. And taxis. Cacti.

B: Matatus (15-passenger taxis) and bodas (motorcycle taxis). Guards. Igneous rock.

C: Igneous rock [can you tell that this rock is making an impression?]. Cactus trees, like the one in our yard.

What are things that you think Ugandans are good at?

B: They are good at making ropes and being resourceful.

W: And jump ropes too!

C: I think Ugandans are good at making with their hands.

W and C: And carrying things on their heads!

What are some things you’ve learned this year?

B: How to make a jump rope.

W: How to make guacamole.

What is something here that would be hard to describe to people who live in the U.S.?

W and C: The Ugandan language.

C: All sorts of Ugandan things, like making things with their hands and carrying them on their heads.

W: And all the different kinds of taxis.

What are some things that make you sad here?

W: That we don’t have all our family here.

B: Ugandan suffering.

C: Same as will and Baden.

What foods do you like here?

C: Posho! [Maize-meal mush] Avocadoes. Maize. Radishes. G-nut sauce [like peanut sauce].

B: Mangoes.

What American foods do you miss?

W, C, and B: Pickles.

B and C: Corn on the cob.

B: I don’t mean to be rude, but when is this interview going to be over?

What is one of your favorite Luganda words?

B: Ssebo (sir).

C: Nyabo (ma’am).

W: Kati, kati (now, now).

What’s something that you like, but didn’t expect to like here?

B: Here [i.e. I didn’t expect to like it here, but I like it].

W: Ndizi.

C: I didn’t expect to like G-nuts or maize, but now I do.

What do your parents do here to help people?

B, W, and C: Give them food.

B: Give them homes (through eMi).

What is cool about growing up in Africa?

W: The rainy seasons are so fun!

B: Learning things to make us better people.


The con

He arrived at our gate a couple of Sunday evenings ago, gripping the wrought iron and somehow looking a shade nervous: sweating, timid. My husband was gone, leaving our guard Yokaneh, and the kids and I.

When I heard him speaking with Yokaneh, I stepped out of the door and greeted the man in Luganda, smiling at him, trying to ease his anxiety somehow, to welcome him without opening my gate. Because I've been counseled not to open for strangers--a culturally acceptable practice--I spoke to him through the parallel bars.

He handed a wrinkled receipt from a local clinic, filled out in ballpoint pen for an eight-year-old girl named Jane. She was being treated for typhoid; his daughter, he explained. He'd known someone who'd worked next door (i.e. at eMi) in 2006. The mzungu--Joel, by name--no longer lived in Uganda, but my visitor was wondering if possibly someone could help him still. The bills were too steep for his daughter's treatment.

It's at moments like these where I'm starting, out of habit, to just pray for wisdom as soon as I encounter them. It's as if my faith is being tested. What's it really made of? What does it look like here? Goodness' sakes, Lord, what do I do? The obvious biblical reference would be the parable of Lazarus, who waited at the rich man's gate for scraps from his table. Still, it's far from a perfect parallel. When Helping Hurts--though it's not gospel, per se--has done a lot to remind me what happens when I make conscience-soothing efforts by flashing my cash with my white-lady presence as opposed to truly offering relief, development, or whatever's needed "as fits the occasion" (Ephesians 4:29). Unfortunately, the legacy of "hurtful helping" has sometimes prolonged or worsened the suffering of a lot of Ugandans. And things are far complex than my naive little eyes usually know. Solution: Ask Somebody who does.

The amount my visitor was indirectly requesting, African-style, was relatively small; maybe the equivalent of $40 USD. Still at a loss, I simply offered to pray for him and his daughter there through the bars, so pray we did.

Yokaneh piped up behind me that Stephen, a Ugandan who handles much of our local staff administration, was up at the office; the man could go and talk to him. Perfect! Someone who would hopefully know better than I how to handle odd situations like this (i.e. a perfect stranger asks me for money presumably because of my ethnicity, i.e. economic status). Again, the question in my mind: Am I just saying "be warmed and filled"? (Again, looking at the verse, not a good parallel.)

As a gesture, I offered to escort the man up to the office. Yokaneh took a polite step forward. "I don't think that's a good idea." Got it. Yokaneh is doing his job, and I am fine with that. Despite sharing height my shortest sister (at 5'1"), the guy is a superb guard.

When the man turned the corner, Yokaneh relaxed. His rhythmic African accent: "Dat guy ees a cone man." I.e., That guy is a con-man.


"Patrick"--the guard at eMi, who often chats with our guard over our brick wall, hanging out in the avocado tree (quite literally)--"whistled and told me he was coming. A couple of years ago Janet Strike posted his picture on the door at the office and said that if we saw him, we should chase him away. Every once in awhile he comes back with a new story: His family's been in an accident, what, what." ("What-what" is Ugandan for "etcetera, etcetera".) "He goes to jail, then comes back out and starts again."

Well. I bent over, expelling air in relief. Here I was, thinking, what does it say about my faith when I turn away--well, delegate, at least--the man at my own gate?

"You can only give money to people you know here," Yokaneh says. Another Ugandan went so far this week to tell me not to give money to Ugandans (!--after I was lied to yet again, praying again, being spared my own naivete again); to simply give things people need.

Compassion is so...complicated sometimes.

Thank God for answered prayer.


He's back. He made it the whole way, and loved it. There are at least four short people (and one average-sized one) who are super-glad he did.


And...after 24 hours, he's gone again. (C'mon, kids! Six more days! We can make it...)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

From the top of Africa

A text from my best friend: I am on top of Kili and feeling great. Love you all so much.

The whole team made it (statistically, two of them weren't supposed to!). My husband saw the sunrise from 19,341 ft. today.

Wow. Relieved; proud; thankful.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tonight's the night! Kilimanjaro summit

John's team plans to wake in about half an hour--11 PM here in east Africa--to summit Kilimanjaro around sunrise! The highest point on the I'm pretty stinkin' proud, not to mention incredibly thankful and prayerful, too.

They will be climbing around 4000 feet tonight in an Arctic biozone--it's quite cold!--so the difficulty is certainly not over. But thus far, despite varying levels of altitude sickness and other small ailments, we've heard that the entire team is still climbing. I'm excited. We would love your prayers.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
Psalm 95:1-4

Friday, January 25, 2013

A small life?

Two years ago, around my thirtieth birthday, I remember standing in our church parking lot with my dear friend Tamara. I'd divulged to her before about somewhat of an identity crisis I'd been having. Most of my life, I'd wanted to make a significant impact for God--doing something radical, probably in some cross-cultural situation that really got my motor running. But there I was, almost thirty, and smack in the middle of suburbia with four little kids and their sippy cups, a dog, and even the picket fence...which seemed to be steadily closing in on a daily basis. What Tamara said that day caused a marked change in thinking. She asked me if what I saw as success--as a big life--was really what God considered success. Or was a "big life" actually loving deeply? Was my significance in my accomplishments for God...or in Christ's?

God had a lot to teach me, over a meandering path of years, about blooming where I was planted, so to speak--in whatever capacity my King asked of me. He had a lot of work to do in lifting my gaze to what real success, a real "good and faithful servant" looked like.

Maybe that's why late one spring night, after I'd finally found contentment in God's story for me, I about fell out of bed when my husband started talking about going overseas. By that point, God had demonstrated to me that becoming a missionary was a lateral move.

If you'd like more of the story, I wanted to let you in on a piece I wrote recently for I'm No Rock Star. I'm hoping it will encourage someone out there who identifies with a reality that feels smaller than their dreams--or, like my new reality, feels like what they're doing is painfully minute compared to the magnitude of problems they see.

Turns out it's not the size of my life that's big. It's the size of my God.

Update from Kilimanjaro!

Yesterday--while my son and 10 of his friends were bowling in honor of W.'s 7th birthday (!)--I received my first text from John from Tanzania. I was markedly relieved.

They hit 14,500 feet yesterday, so they've only got 4,500 to go until they summit at sunrise on Sunday morning. His face is tingling and he had a slight headache, but he is, and I quote, "having a blast"! John's done a great deal of climbing with his dad and others in the past throughout Colorado, so it's not hard for me to picture the guy up there having the time of his life up there. And that makes me one happy woman...despite the ensuing birthday sleepover going considerably more out of control than I pictured it in my head.

As for the rest of the Kili team, it sounds like two of them are having significant stomach issues (perhaps bad food), and some others are struggling against altitude sickness. Thanks for your continued prayers and God's work in all aspects of this climb to benefit eMi.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

From John: Kilimanjaro prayers...and a last-minute match!

Hey, friends. It’s only a matter of days before I depart for Kilimanjaro.   Excited, expectant, a little anxious…   I am hoping you will offer up a prayer for us.  Here are a few requests but feel free to expand on them as you pray:

  • ·         I am coordinating this climb of 14 climbers, so you can pray for me and all that entails in the remaining days.
  • ·         At 19,000+ feet, altitude sickness is a major concern especially since I have a history with it.   I also have an ingrown toenail that has come about in a bad infection the last few days and praying I can extract it and let it heal before Monday.  So pray for health, summit success (annual stats are 50% make it), and a special time of meeting with God during our trip.
  • ·         Janel will be at home caring for the kids during the ten days I am away--then for another week while I attend a member care conference--so pray for endurance and peace for her and the kids...and perhaps a few generous friends to help out at times.
  • ·         I am still praying to make my goal of raising $3500 by the 20th to go for Engineering Ministries International and supporting our efforts in designing and constructing facilities for the impoverished of east Africa.  

In addition to praying, if you are interested in donating toward my climb for this eMi fundraiser, good news… a donor has pledged a Kilimanjaro Donation Match to double gifts given between now and January 20th – that’s Sunday!   If you are still considering making a donation toward our Kili fundraiser for the work of eMi and the ministry of the gospel to the impoverished of East Africa, follow this link to make a donation and select “Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb - 1528” in the drop box and insert “John Breitenstein” in the “other categories” comments section.

Janel and I remain humbled by each of you as you encourage us, send us Christmas cards and notes, pray for us, and support our work so generously!  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Running buddies

Earlier this year, I posted a blog comparing our first few months to a marathon--and a marathon they were. The bonus? It's rewarding to look back at this last year and see the sinews God's been slowly shaping in my family, and in me. I love how faith grows leaner, longer, stronger as years pass, even as my body most certainly degenerates!

But another aspect I cherish about running the race here are my running buddies, so to speak. Visitors here would testify that the eMi "family" is remarkably close-knit--and I've got some outside of eMi, too. (Some of you have managed to jog with me despite the ocean between us!) In somewhat of a strenuous year, my need for friendships that tell the truth, and that step in when I'm lagging, has been more obvious than ever. I've definitely been more needy! But it turns out that's not as I might have braced myself for. Watch the savanna here and you'll see that loners get picked off pretty easily. And I am solidly convinced that's not just an Africa thing.

I posted on my gratitude--and desperate need, more than ever--for Relationships that Tell the Truth on MomLifeToday.

Here's to running buddies.