Wednesday, March 27, 2013

From John: Climbing to the top of Africa!

8 days…   5 ecological zones.  Monkeys, birds, exotic plants only found on Kili.  Glaciers, water falls, a full-moon summit.   19,340 feet.   Awesome!

Even now I am exhilarated by having made the climb pushing new boundaries and having had the opportunity to join in with friends to see the beauty of God’s creation from an new perspective.   And what’s more is that all together we raised over $50,000 toward our new office.   Pretty Incredible!  Thanks so much for your prayers, encouragement and contributions.

 I would say it was a once in a lifetime event, but I’ve been asked by eMi to lead the climb again with a whole new team of climbers.  

You wouldn’t want to join me would you???
Note: To view the whole Picasa album, click here. With all the cameras on this trip, I didn't even need to pull my camera from my pack. Many of these photos are courtesy David Hoskinson.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wow--an incredible opportunity.

Fair warning: Lengthy post ahead. Hopefully instead of wearing out my welcome, I can build up the excitement. ...Perhaps not.

It was a school day this past January that found Oliver and I sitting on a bench in our garage-turned-schoolroom, the doors flung open, the wind twirling the paper snowflakes suspended from the ceiling (the closest we'll get to snow for awhile). She was admiring our "contraction kites", each displaying a contraction on the construction-paper body of the kite, and the two words that composed it on the tail's ribbons.

"I wish you could teach Ugandan teachers how to teach," she mused once again in that staccato African accent. "They don't do anything like this." She went on in topics we'd already discussed at length: how different it was to see our little homeschool engage my kids, how much they were learning with less effort. In my understanding, the average Ugandan high school student can be carrying 13-15 subjects, simply choosing in which he or she will succeed, since succeeding in all is virtually impossible. Students at boarding schools may rise at 4:00 in the morning in order to have classes in the school's facilities, or hold classes at 10 at night. The classes may have 100 or more students, many taught by a teacher standing in front, lecturing. Teachers are not atypically allowed to beat students for offenses such as poor pencil grip, poor test results, or not talking. The students who succeed are generally girls--thanks to their more extensive attention spans--and/or auditory learners skilled at testing.

Oliver seems equally amazed, if not more so, at the relative and slowly growing success of my son with two, if not three, learning disorders. I will hand much of that to God's incredible gift in the form of medication for our family, despite the negative criticism that may draw. But I'm humbled and fascinated by how God's used my son's disorder as a part of our family's story--of my own story. Until I was challenged to get a little more creative, a little more engaging in order for him to be a success, I hadn't tapped in to some of the gifts with which God had equipped me. I hadn't explored what teaching could be. I now spend delightful minutes on Pinterest, learning how to teach commas using macaroni, or printing off songs and board games for math.

But back to the garage, er, classroom. Oliver and I had also been brainstorming options for her education, possibly at the local YMCA Institute. That's when yet another wild hare hit me: What if I volunteered to teach, and Oliver got a discount, or even a free education? I’d been asking John and Oliver's opinions and praying about what local ministry I should get involved in since a couple of things cleared out of my schedule…and this got me excited. The YMCA has a minimum-tuition diploma program (not a degree) for people who can’t really afford to go to school, and they have a teacher education program.

So, as audacious as it sounds, I actually called the Y's registrar to see if I could volunteer to teach a class. (I was probably egged on by my sister's political science classes for Burmese refugees, for which she's written her own curriculum and which I highly respect.) The registrar wanted to meet with me the next day. That day found me frazzled from driving a couple of hours in heavy, characteristically death-defying traffic--and glimpsing a rather bleak program based on their graduating seniors’ displays set out in the dust on campus. They’d all had their “teaching technologies” laid out, which were incredibly resourceful—bottle-cap abacuses, cardboard letter dominoes and color bingo, letter cards covered with clear plastic bags in lieu of lamination. But everyone had exactly the same thing. Every one of the 180 students was to meet the same requirements. There was little creativity, spelling errors everywhere (a “flunnel board”, er, flannel board—phonetic with an African accent)--just somewhat discouraging to see.

But it seems the weary afternoon was worth it. I was flabbergasted when the department head asked me to speak to their graduating final-level students the following day. As in, within the next 24 hours. It felt eerily familiar to what had happened to my sister in Thailand that same week. It also seemed such an answer to my prayer for clarity and favor from God, and a desire to make sure the glory was pointed in the right place--a historical struggle in me. But I wondered if I was simply thinking of myself more highly than I ought, and failing to do things with excellence.

Still, God was incredibly faithful in all my weakness that next day. The session went so well...even with about 180 ladies. Feedback, especially in the form of smiles and faculty, was encouraging. Even more encouraging was that the class began with prayer, and the students seemed to respond postively to my faith references. John was able to hold devotions daily in the class he took (and will likely help lead this summer) at Kyambogo University, so I hoped to lead devotions that set up a basic theology of teacher, namely communicating grace in the midst of such a shame-based culture. Testing scores, for example, determine much of a person's available opportunities, and certainly status and level of confidence (or in most cases, lack thereof). I long to draw clear lines from grace to courage to creativity and each student's unique workmanship in the classroom. It would take my passion and create an avenue to share the gospel over and over. Really, Lord?! Could this actually happen? 

Bottom line? Today, my follow-up meeting with the department head and branch director indicated that I can begin teaching a five- or six-week course, two hours a week for about 50 prospective teachers, beginning in May. Hip, hip, hooray! Oliver's big grin when I told her the news was so satisfying.  

And though she won't be attending the YMCA, I am thrilled to hear of her plans to start at a good university this August--largely due to the kindness of those of you contributing to her education fund! (WOW!)

This feels like a big answer to prayer. It also feels daunting. I have about four weeks to complete my curriculum, and I have yet to predict the starting level of the students' understanding. I am humbled and incredulous at this opportunity. And I'm amazed at how God's taken an significant, continued obstacle for our family--a fairly severe learning disorder--and used it to once again make beautiful things for His honor.

Would you consider praying for me, that my curriculum and class would be entirely God-orchestrated? Thank you, friends, for encouraging us and empowering us to be here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


One of our family's most fun Christmas projects found its inception with one of our homeschooling co-op moms: Christmas bundles. Essentially, each bundle is a saucepan filled with laundry soap (used for most cleaning purposes here), exam booklets and pencils for school kids, sugar, matches, candles, necklaces and earrings hand-beaded by the co-op kids, a laminated bookmark with an abbreviated version of the Four Spiritual Laws, Christmas cards made by the co-op kids--and a Bible.

This friend of mine has been assembling bundles for years now, and she did all the legwork of fundraising, purchasing, etc. Another mom and friend followed her own brainstorm...and found a donor to include a children's Bible in each! This is invaluable because since literacy is a problem here, parents can get the general idea of Bible stories, and school kids can read their own Bibles.

Our kids formed assembly lines, giddily stuffing and arranging the bundles, then praying for the families who'd receive them. Oliver distributed ours to families she's been interacting with, since she's able to go places and get into people's lives in ways we can't (or at least haven't yet). One, for example, was the Muslim seamstress who's stitched a few pillowcovers and curtains for us this year.

My favorite part? Oliver reported that it was almost like people didn't see the rest of the bundles when they saw the Bibles. People were exclaiming and shouting over finally having their own Bibles--which I can believe after seeing the guards and other local staffers' reactions after my parents gave them Bibles back in September. Oliver's primary-school friend had already memorized the first chapter of his children's Bible (most children don't have many books, if any). Now she had a problem though--she had far more people who wanted Bibles than she had Bibles.

So imagine our delight when the other missionary family from our home church in Little Rock--also serving in Uganda!--asked what our church could send back with them. Seriously?! I knew books were heavy, but even a few Bibles would be so much more accessible costwise than the Bibles we've found here. (Yikes.)

When I arrived to pick up the goodies--which admittedly included two Sam's size bags of chocolate chips, Legos, and other priceless items--there was not one, not two, but an entire box of Bibles paid for by women from FamilyLife!

Oliver's claimed ten by now, I think, for people who don't have their own Bibles. She came back after the first round: "The people were dancing!" They were that excited. It's tremendous, after a year of being here with her and attempting to facilitate her ministry, that we can finally put a Bible with the relationships. Another Bible went to a guard who'd been hired after my parents left; another to the friend of a friend with plans to be a pastor.

All that to's a timeless example of Christ's Body at work here around the world--and even then, the primary player on the stage here is an almighty, all-seeing God who works across time. I love that the knowledge of Him is filling the earth. And I'm thankful for all of you who generously, whole-heartedly hunker down with us and do it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pi Day

It's 3.14, and collectively we're a bunch of engineers and architects. What would you expect? The second annual Pi Day at the office. My favorite was a chocolate number with a graham cracker crust, but my kids were continually drawn to the glowing pink number in the middle there. All in all, a great day for some circular sugar.

It was so much wonderful sugar in one place...

With our friend and local staff member Edith, from whom we buy all our eggs.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The rescued

Back to the American Embassy today, picking up my new passport. The old one expired in 11 days, so I made it by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.

Despite the minor frustration of the department actually being closed when said to be open, it seems God had another "appointment" for me. I watched a young mom with a long blond ponytail as she supervised three little boys who all looked very close in age--two black, one white--jumping from the landscaping stones to the waiting area's pavement.

As they clambered into the seats across from me, I smiled and voiced my empathy over the exhaustion and delight of having three kids close together. Was she there two get visas for the two boys? That, I have decided, is one of my favorite parts of the tedium of embassy visits: watching all the multi-colored adoptive families carrying, holding the hands of, or following the meandering of their new children.

But the woman explained they actually adopted the older Ugandan preschooler a year ago from a babies' home here in the city. Unfortunately, corruption is nothing short of rampant in the adoption arena here, from what I can gather. It seeps far and wide in close-knit collaborations of lawyers; police; orphanage owners who sell the diapers and formula brought over by short-term teams. Sadly, though this woman's son had been adopted from a well-funded babies' home, as a two-year-old he was neither crawling nor speaking. He weighed in at sixteen pounds.

I marveled at the bubbly, sweating little ball of energy wriggling into a seat beside his Caucasian brother. This kid? She explained that he grew 12 inches in the last year and gained twenty-plus pounds (??!!). I exclaimed over his development over one year--his pronounced English, his coordination to the point of jumping: "It's amazing what a little love can do!"

"...And a little food," she agreed. Kids didn't always have this kind of improvement, she explained, and he still had difficulties with some gross motor skills. Still, I was in awe.

My mind flashed to a conversation I'd had with another eMi mom who volunteers at a local orphanage. She described the vacant look in so many of the toddlers' eyes, who've just grown used to their quality of life (or, sadly, lack thereof). They can get that gleam back, another mom explained. It doesn't have to be gone forever.

My heart is crumpled today. I found myself, more than once, with moisture collecting in the corners of my eyes. There are so many orphans here. The words of David Platt come to mind:
adoption is not easy, and children are indeed needy. It’s important to realize, then, that we adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued. And in this way, the gospel uniquely portrays, compels, and ultimately sustains adoption.

Isn't that what's been done for me? Haven't I, at various times throughout my life, grown a spiritual foot because He's taken me out of where I was, fed me with some true Bread, and loved me?

Pray with me, friends, for God to act in mighty ways on behalf of the vast crowds of the fatherless here.