Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Jolly Holiday

John and I got away for a few days for our thirteenth (yeowzas!) anniversary! (Thanks, Oliver!) We got a free boat ride on Lake Victoria, so the kids piled in before we snuck away. For most--Oliver included--it was their first boat ride. Loved it.

Of course, the life vests were one size fits all. But it made for some great pictures, and no one fell in.

And I have to admit--I'm fairly smitten with the guy in the hat.

Family Life in Photo, part five

I'm telling you. This kid is like having twins.  You know, in a good way. Most of the time.

eMi Family Fun Day at a local international school. The kids love this event! An inflatable waterslide, pizza, so many friends. Great times.

Guess who just turned nine?! #nottheonlyonefeelingolder

Monica is a dear friend, who also happens to make pretty much the best peanut butter on the planet. These kids love her, peanut butter or not.
Drama, drama, drama. Bet they got it from their dad.

Does anyone else feel like they're constantly in somebody's scope?

Wondering what their Cherokee ancestors would think of this getup. Let us know if you want us to hook you up with a costume.

Love these brothers--! (And no, they still don't wear shirts.)

I have several resident Lego Star Wars fanatics. The set in hand is from Grandpa and Grandma.

Our lovely Oliver, a.k.a. Daily Life Saver.
Check out our Family Life in Photo part three here.

Class dismissed

Well, it’s over. I’ve finished my first term of teaching at the YMCA.

The department head called a special class for me to finish, since I’d originally been told I had six weeks instead of four. Driving there, dodging bodas and potholes big enough to hide one of my kids, I breathed prayers of both fervent petition and penetrating frustration. This trip placed the final bookend on months of so much going into this class, Saturdays and copies and posters in felt-tip marker. Many of my hopes had limped their way back to me in failed quizzes, blank stares, giggling conversations I had to shout over.

Once I arrived—up the six flights of stairs, down and up again upon reaching another locked gate—I sat sweating at five minutes after class time, with no class area remaining  in the gym-sized room swarming with students (none of them mine). I admit to preparing a firm speech for my supervisor in my mind that I knew I’d never give--one with lots of pointing and lifted brows. Instead, I placed a polite call. 

Supervisor: “They will come! I told them to come.” 


Then, “I will come.” (He didn’t.)
Three ladies showed up at ten after; at one hour into class time, I had fourteen out of the ninety; 26 when all was said and done.  But I did relish the intimacy of the class time, the dedication of those who simply showed up when they could be snagging a day off from their teaching practicum.

Thankfully, I’d picked up a few tips those three weeks of cancelled class. I’d found a way to break down a “creative teaching process” of goal setting, brainstorming (new to them) and gathering ideas, designing an idea, and evaluating its effectiveness. We took most of class time to try out the process over and over, to make sure we were all grasping the concept. In chalk, I outlined basic steps to search the internet for ideas. I also swiped a concept from John and stopped class every 20 minutes to ask for questions: Culturally, asking questions can be considered disrespectful—leading to a lack of understanding and true learning.

During the whole class, the ladies assembled file folder games for their classes. When they found out the games were a gift to them (maybe they were expecting I needed ninety of the same file folder game for myself?), a collective whoop and round of applause went up. And I have to admit, my spirits were lifted by their disappointment that I wouldn’t be teaching them again, by what seemed like genuine gratitude and their feedback about what they’d learned. Maybe it wasn’t all as dismal as I feared in my disillusionment—and honestly, anger.

I’m convicted that I've got a good starting point. I’ve got lesson plans, a method, learning centers assembled with bottlecaps and beans and rice. Yes, it all needs some sort of giant cultural tuning fork, with me pressing my ear to cultural nuances and underperformance. I can't just let this whole thing go. But I’m not sure I’ve got the right venue. A lot of these students are coming in from villages, with very limited, rote education resembling memorization and regurgitation. Culturally, I am trying to teach a number of concepts—namely creativity—that are intensely different and complex,  in a period of only six weeks, with ninety women.

John's welcomed much more success at Kyambogo University this year with an extremely small class for which they interviewed--eliminating some entitlement, turning it into a privilege. Perhaps I’d have more success with a diploma class (as opposed to certificate students), who have more time and money invested, and about half the class size. Even more, I could start with just a handful of promising young ladies, rich with the potential to truly launch them into their field.

But I also feel niggled by the poorest of the poor, not just the strongest-- the ones who naturally get help in an impoverished society (another reason why teaching learning disorders brought me a lot of confused looks). But that may well be beyond the scope of what I can do in a class. I find myself just praying about where to take this, at times just avoiding a jaded shell. Perpetually, I find the line paper-thin between a “hand up” and a “hand out”, between empowering and enabling.

So much of poverty relief or missions or God-centered work is wondering, trusting, working out this mystery. No matter where we are, our faith is clustered, waiting, in a mustard seed.

Do not depend on hope of results. When…doing…essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results opposite … The big results are not in your hands or mine.… All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. –Thomas Merton


I never know how to do this gracefully.

When I think of posting links to some of my recent articles and outside blogs, the picture in my mind is the one my parents love to joke about. It involves me falling in the same hole in our yard pretty much every morning on my path across the yard to the school bus. My lack of coordination has always been a bit legendary. Why didn't someone stop me? Or fill in the stinkin' hole? What about the bus driver moving a couple feet ahead? Or, as my husband asks, eyebrows lifted, why didn't I move a few inches to the left? These are questions I may have to ask God someday. Sadly, my level of social appropriateness can still occasionally suffer from a similar wobbly (ow!), blush-worthy grace. Or lack thereof.

At any rate...God's given some cool opportunities to build up His people. But I waffle: Is it self-promotion? Is it tacky? Do people want to read these? Is this "letting your light shine before men so they can praise Your Father" or letting my right hand gawk at my left?

Well. Here's hoping they'll offer more grace (less tripping) for someone out there.

62 Things to Say to Make Your Husband Feel Great
A Month of Easy Family Night Ideas
50 Fun Role-Playing Ideas for Kids
8 Practical Ways to Parent with Grace
How to Raise Good Conversationalists
I'm No Rock Star
20 Ways to Mentor in Your 20s
Talk to Me: Encouraging Authentic Relationships

Monday, June 17, 2013

Oh, say, can you survey? Part nnya

Thought it'd be cool to show you some photos of John's surveying practicum class. The students are learning  the equipment eMi brought over--an opportunity to which the students don't have access during their university education aside from this class. (Maybe you'll recognize some of the students from our cookout!)

Related posts from last year's class: 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More than grillin'

If "breaking bread" is a part of making disciples, I am thrilled we can do it with shish kabobs. Twenty people converged on our house today, most of them students from John's surveying practicum class, and past class, at Kyambogo.  It was a ton of fun for all of us.

Even more, it brings in that relational element that brings this class beyond just development in an impoverished country. Books on missions theory sometimes allude to the "ministry of reconciliation" from 2 Corinthians, and speak of helping people to reconcile--to make up what's been lost--with creation, with God, with others, and with themselves. So as much as today was about a heap of marinated meat, massive amounts of garlic potatoes, and a game of cornhole, events like this help the class move beyond reconciling these guys to working with God's creation, honing their abilities God's made. It builds passport and makes time to talk, making this even more about discipleship (reconciling them to God and others). 

I am terrible at downloading photos to the here's an attempt at giving you a snapshot of a great day, doing what we love to do. 

Besides. I never miss a front-row seat watching Ugandans get on a trampoline for the first time.

Patrick Cochrane, here with his lovely wife Joan, is the mastermind behind this class. On one of his many short-term volunteer trips with eMi as a surveyor, Patrick worked with a Ugandan surveyor who sadly knew very little about modern equipment and surveying practice. So Patrick shouldered the significant efforts required to initiate, fund, maintain, and effectively carry out a partnership with a university here. He's located and shipped over  mounds of  surveying equipment to turn students' theory classes into skill--with a side of discipleship.

This student, Repher, showed off some sweet street-dancing moves.

Yep, that's me. Hopin' I won't feel that one tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kyambogo, revisited

Back in the saddle again: another eight-week surveying practicum that John's assisting at Kyambogo University, led by one of our eMi volunteers. But this year, it's even better. There were interviews for the six class positions, even an entrance exam on existing knowledge. Welaba entitlement mentality, hello privileged opportunity. Tomorrow we're hosting a cookout for all of his students and instructors in hopes of increasing the relational/discipleship element, too. A couple of students from last year should be joining us.

John's role in the class essentially involves assisting the students personally around the classroom, and acting as a cultural liason of sorts. As I picture it in my head, I'm thankful for the quiet, steady presence my husband provides, inserting a few strategic comments for understanding here and there that smooth out so many circumstances. I'm thankful for all the hats he wears at eMi that fit so many of his unique strengths, and these few weeks to move from a valuable in-office supporting role to an opportunity to build more directly into nationals outside our office.

It's encouraging to me personally, too, as I evaluate the obstacles I've been hurdling (or stumbling over) in my own class. John and Patrick have learned from their first experience, and this year seems a world away from last year. Yes, discipleship is slow. But we're learning what works here and what doesn't. And at the risk of being self-centered, I am simply thankful for the usefulness of our lives here that leaves us contentedly tired.

Keepin' on

It was evening; the nights are slightly cooler now, even more pleasant than usual. I was chatting with our guard, Joseph, whose oldest son is the age of my youngest. He and his family have resided in the boys' quarters of now two of our eMi families, both of whom have homeschooled at different times. Joseph looked at me.

"I think I am going to homeschool [my son] a bit to help him keep up in preschool," he said. "Because I think"--he paused here--"that even a parent can teach a child."

I grinned. Yes, Joseph. You can teach your son.

This was a big deal: a shift in cultural thinking. Parents creating an educational environment in their home, taking an interest in the next level of parenting beyond providing food and shelter and school fees, is an admirable step.

I dashed inside, scrounging around in the materials I'd brought to my YMCA class, some of J.'s favorite file folder games, a piece of chalk. We sat on the cement porch of our boys' quarters and flipped through the games. I drew "Mickey Mouse Math" on the pavement, for addition with g. nuts: A large circle for Mickey's face, two small ones for the ears, where you place the addends. Slide them to the face, count 'em up, and your kids get to eat all their correct answers.

The next night, I stepped into the twilight with mild, giddy anticipation. How did his kids like it? "So much!" He exclaimed, describing their favorites. I reveled in his toothy grin. He'll switch these activities out for more in July, and is looking forward to his day off to play games with them most of the day. It was fun to celebrate with him, to hear of such exceptional fatherhood. Being a dad looks entirely different here--if it exists at all in many families--and a man taking such devoted interest in his kids gave me a glittering hope inside.

More than that, it was a unique, small, brightly-wrapped package of grace. I haven't written much about my latest YMCA classes, partially because I'm concerned about being myopic about my own interests. But I have also found myself in that wordless dearth of creativity, of happily blogging our lives. I have been mucking around in that silent swamp that is discouragement.

It's been things like the majority of ladies in my class failing or cheating on my quizzes, ignoring my assignments, dodging class. So then it was me pulling out all the stops, spending hours during a brief anniversary trip so my students would finally get it, so their classes would change. Then it was arriving at the Y after forty minutes in traffic, arms heavy with bags of homemade playdough and graded quizzes and copies I'd paid for and hauled half a mile through the construction, to find out the faculty had cancelled afternoon classes and forgotten to call me. (Oops.) Then it was being cancelled again without them calling me for a second week. (I'd wised up and called a few times until someone returned my call on my way there.) It was asking my students a week after I'd shared the Gospel: "So! Can you earn your salvation?" and half of the class answering with a resounding "YES!"

I sagged against the flaking cupboards of my kitchen one night, missing the bubbly little niece I haven't seen yet, chewing her toes in photos around a drooly grin. I was missing grabbing a bag of pita chips from my mom's cupboard near her pleasant-smelling laundry room. I was frustrated because ants had again commandeered the biscuits I'd laid on the counter for dinner, yet another infestation (3 species of ants, 2 species of cockroaches, a mouse, bats) just beyond my control. I was feeling used because of a number of cultural run-ins where I felt pounced upon as a frizzy-haired ATM for total strangers, including a policeman with a large rifle. I looked at the floor and mumbled to my husband, "It doesn't feel like my righteousness is breaking forth like the dawn." There may have been some tears. (If not then, certainly later.)

I've continued to remind myself that the Cross looked like the ultimate defeat; that God's timing and vision of success are far, far beyond my eyes. I feel secure that God has not wasted my time or money or energy, or my family's. I am just tired, poured out (feels more like dumped out at this point), and with what looks to human eyes like a very low cost-benefit ratio.

So I consider it a personal treasure from God that Joseph's family is changing because of the people who have left their families, and snack foods, to come to live here. I feel encouraged God brought another friend to my door yesterday for a conversation that helped her to make a big life decision. Discipleship is S-L-O-W whether you're in Scranton or Mogadishu. The cost is steep. But it is unquestionably worth the price. My home is not here any more than it is in the U.S. of A., land of relatively uninfested kitchens. God's doing something.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Hebrews 10:35-36