Monday, December 27, 2010

For better or worse...

"The need is great—and not just in Africa.” --Those were my ending words in a newspaper article that I wrote for my hometown newspaper right before Christmas. I encouraged people to love and reach out to those around them who are struggling.

I finished writing it, and literally three minutes after clicking “send” and emailing the article to the editor, I stumbled across the blog of a family friend who lives in that very town.

As I started reading Sandy’s blog entries, I gasped and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

This young, vibrant family has suddenly been thrown into the middle of a very dark, terrifying storm: Sandy’s 46-year-old husband, Curt, has been diagnosed with Alzheimers.

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Curt has been a teacher for the past 25 years, but several weeks ago he had to stop teaching. I know his students loved him and will miss his presence at the high school; one of my teen girls at HOHC last year had Curt as a history teacher at the time and she highly respected him.

I can’t imagine how difficult and challenging this journey will be for this family (they have two teenagers: ages 13 and 16), but I know one thing: they are 100% relying on God to carry them through. Instead of cursing God, they are still saying “blessed be the name of the Lord;” I can’t tell you how encouraged I am by this! Many Christians turn their back on God during trials like this, but Sandy and Curt know that true peace and strength can only come from Him.

Here’s an excerpt from Sandy’s blog. She writes:

“I am the type of person who carries a flashlight, a tape measure, a pocketknife, and clorox wipes in my purse with me. I am always prepared for everything, I plan for things, I think ahead…..BUT having a husband who has Alzheimer’s at age 46 is NOT something I ever planned for, or ever prepared for…

…I have come to ACCEPT this diagnosis. I don’t like it, I don’t understand why it is happening to us….BUT it is what we are dealing with and I refuse to confront it with a negative attitude…

I am not prepared for this journey we are on….but amidst such difficulties I am amazed at the PEACE I have come to know!! God has truly granted me that peace during the storm of this life.”

Ask yourself….would you have the same attitude and be able to rely on God for your strength? I know how I would WANT to react if I were in Sandy’s shoes, but I don’t know how I would actually react. I watched my grandfather endure Alzheimers for several years, and it was incredibly emotionally draining (my mom and grandma set wonderful examples, the way they loved + cared for him.)

While reading Sandy’s honest and emotional blog entries, it’s evident to me that she meant the words “….for better or worse” when she stood beside the love of her life and recited her wedding vows.

Please please please, if you live locally and know this family, extend a loving hand to them and see how you can be a blessing to them. They’re an incredible family, and I’ve SO enjoyed getting to know them over the last 8 years or so. (My family met them when their son and my brother played on the same baseball team. I enjoyed babysitting their kids when they were younger—their son even gave me a drum lesson once when he was about 9 : )

As Christians, we are meant to live this life TOGETHER—not alone. So reach out to friends (and even strangers) around you who are in the middle of difficult situations.

Above all, pray for Sandy + Curt and the kids each day as they adjust to a completely new way-of-life.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas--Africa style!

Stripped.

That's the adjective that keeps running through my mind to describe Christmas time in Uganda.

Why "stripped" you might ask?

"[stripped]: having or containing the bare essentials, with no added features or accessories..." (dictionary.com)

This is the first Christmas in my life where I haven't heard a single child talk about Santa. I also have not heard ANYONE talk about Christmas sales or buying the hottest new toy for their child.

Christmas time in Africa seems so much more....focused! Focused on the baby who was born in a smelly, dirty barn. To be our Savior. Don't get me wrong, (some) families here exchange a few gifts. And they eat lots of yummy food. And they celebrate with music, dancing, etc. And there's nothing wrong with that; this is a joyous holiday! But my point is, the Christmas season is much more "stripped" than what I'm used to seeing in the U.S. (sidenote: I do REALLY miss snow and gorgeous Christmas lights in the neighborhoods....!)

At the beginning of this week, I was sitting in my apartment with all the doors and windows wide open...the fresh breeze was wafting through, yet I was still soooo hot even in a tank top/shorts (sipping lemonade trying to cool off!) So I knew I had to get involved with some Christmas-y activities to get in the spirit! Watoto's Christmas Cantata was incredible....It told the nativity story yet with an African flair (I'm so glad they didn't overly westernize the production!) African dancing and beautiful singing = fabulous. Check out this photo from Watoto's website...

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The other week, I helped throw a Christmas party for about 60 street boys (who live in the slums.) I have recently started helping another missionary with her weekly outreach in the local slums. I can't even describe how fulfilling it is to love on these boys! They had such a blast at the Christmas party. I was asked to share the Christmas story, and although I was a bit nervous, I prayed that the boys would understand and receive the hope that only Jesus can give. Several boys accepted Christ at the end--totally a God-thing.

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It started REALLY feeling like Christmas on Thursday, when Julie (another missionary who recently moved into the same apartment complex) and I spent allllll day baking Christmas cookies which we handed out to the kids/adults in our neighborhood this morning. Our power went out last night, so I had to frost the sugar cookies (with my homemade pepperminet icing. yum) by candle-light at 11pm....oh, Africa. (We also didn't have running water the last 8 days. But as of today, we have it! Just in time for Christmas....now I can wash clothes, wash dishes, wash my hair.....yaaaaaaay!)

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It "cooled off" to about 60+ degrees, therefore I take any chance I can get to wear a hoodie! [Baking is so much more fun with music. Thanks to Brett, I've had Dave Barnes' Christmas album on repeat since November. FANTASTIC music.]

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I hope all of you are enjoying your Christmas Eve. I sure did! I attended a Christmas carol service at my church and brought a few of my Ugandan neighbors along which was fantastic. As I sat in the service and listened to a Ugandan guy play "Silent Night" on his saxophone, I was overcome with such joy. Yes, of course I miss my family and our Christmas traditions! But without a doubt, I know this is where I'm supposed to be. I'm excited to experience Christmas in Africa tomorrow with my dear friend/co-worker; her family has invited me to celebrate with them--Ugandan style! :)

I'm not sure why, but I keep thinking about the role the Shepherds played in the Nativity Story. I love the fact that they were the first to hear the news of Jesus' birth....the shepherds weren't wealthy; they weren't well-respected by others. They were truly common people. Yet God wanted the angels to appear to them FIRST. Also, I've never thought about this until this year--but the shepherds were the FIRST missionaries! After worshipping baby Jesus, they returned to their village/homes and told everyone about what they had seen.

Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

8 Things You're Not Likely to See in the States...

I've been writing a monthly column for my town's local newspaper (back in PA), so this is the one I wrote for November. It gives a colorful glimpse into my daily life and the crazy things I see in Kampala!

8 Things You're Not Likely to See in the States
After five months of living in Kampala, Uganda, the unique, quirky cultural things I witness around me become more and more normal. Yet for you reading this in Pennsylvania, this is not the norm, so please be entertained by this glimpse of Ugandan “normality.”

You name it, a Boda can carry it!

Bodas are a motorcycle form of transportation, but they carry much more than just people. I’ve seen bodas transport a large bed (frame included), crates and crates of bottled soda, a refrigerator, and my personal favorite: at least 20 chickens. Don’t tell PETA! Since the chickens weren’t even flinching, I thought they must be dead, but my Ugandan friend assured me that they were still alive and kickin’. It was quite memorable to see chickens strapped to a Boda, tied together like a bouquet of flowers. That can’t be comfortable or enjoyable.

Communicating Via Eyebrows

When conversing with a Ugandan, you must be astute. If you ask them a question to which the answer is “yes,” then there’s a good chance they will give a simple eyebrow lift instead of verbally answering. Amazingly enough, this also comes in handy if you need to signal a Boda for a ride. A quick eyebrow raise and they somehow see it from down the street!

The Truth Hurts

Ugandans can be very blunt about things that we Americans tend to sugarcoat. For example, if they think someone is gaining weight, they’re not afraid to tell them. But that’s also because, in general, they mean it as a compliment. If someone is large in size, it shows they eat well which means they most likely have money.

Of course, it’s not ALWAYS meant as a positive compliment. A few weeks ago I walked out of my apartment complex to a little shop across the road to buy some eggs. The following conversation took place between the shop owner and customer (both Ugandan women).

Customer: “Hello, I’d like to buy some posho” (a local food).

Shop owner: in a critical tone of voice exclaimed, “You’re THAT size and you want to eat posho?? Don’t you care about your figure?”

I felt quite awkward and just stood there twiddling my thumbs, wondering what would have happened had the conversation taken place between two Americans!

Unbelievably Cheap Produce

Kampala’s fresh, local fruits and vegetables are spoiling me. Not only are they incredibly cheap to purchase, but they taste far better than what I buy at the grocery stores back in the U.S. When the pineapple truck pulls onto my dirt road, I eagerly choose a ripe one for approximately 50 cents, depending on its size. Tomatoes cost about 8 cents apiece, mangoes 10 cents, and a large avocado is no more than 20 cents.

Ugandan Men are Not Shy

To state the obvious, women from western cultures stand out here. When such women walk down the street, Ugandan men often shout bizarre things like: “Come here, my wife!” (usually their voice rises about three octaves which never fails to make me giggle.) I’ve been “proposed” to multiple times, and my American friend almost sold me off to a young man for three cows (as a practical joke, of course.)

I’ve found that ignoring is usually the best policy, but if I’m in a feisty mood, and they overstep their boundaries, I’ll tell them, “Tonta wanya!” which is Luganda for “don’t disturb me” and that usually does the trick.

African Time

It didn’t take me long to realize that if an event (a work meeting, a wedding, etc.) is scheduled to start at a certain time, it most likely won’t. If you’re lucky, it might begin 30-60 minutes after the original start time. The culture here is laid back, so if you’re running late, most likely everyone else is, too.

As I write this, I’m wondering why I leap out of bed and rush to get to church on time, because the reality is it “begins” at 10am but at that time there are only the other Westerners (who are time conscious) and a handful of Ugandans. By the time our 40 minutes of worship is over, then MOST of the congregation has arrived.

Run, Don’t Walk

At times, I think it’d be safer to walk blind-folded across a New York City street than to dodge the taxis, bodas, trucks, and people in downtown Kampala. When crossing the downtown city streets, you literally have to run or you don’t stand a chance. My trick to surviving is to find a Ugandan who is crossing and then follow in close proximity. They’re more aggressive and much better at crossing the busy streets.

You need it, the taxi park has it!

In the city of Kampala, you will find two separate taxi parks. Each contains a maze of hundreds upon hundreds of taxi buses which is a common form of transportation here. But you can shop while you sit inside the taxi and wait for it to depart. Vendors forcefully shove their goods through the window in hopes that you will make a purchase. Craving ice cream? Need a book that translates Luganda to English? Want some apples or bananas? You can buy it all through your taxi window!

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[Just a small portion of the massive taxi park--each time I leave the city to head home, I weave my way through the organized chaos!]

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[Cheap veggies/fruit at the market!]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Look at that smile! [video post]

A few months ago, Dwelling Places assigned each staff member two children as part of the "holistic care program." (We have hundreds of children on our program, but many of them don't live nearby--either at boarding schools, with foster families, or even with their own families in villages. So the Holistic Care Program is for the DP children who live nearby.) The goal is to give the children one-on-one time on a weekly basis: to encourage them spiritually, love on them, etc.

I was extremely blessed to be assigned Filbert (the handsome boy in the video!) and his older sister, Balbina. (Their younger sister, Emai, is also on our program and is a doll!!) Their story really touches my heart....their father died several years ago in the village, so then the mother brought the kids here to Kampala. They ended up on the streets, which is when DP rescued them. Unfortunately, their mother fell sick and died exactly 2 years ago (shortly after Christmas.) Even though his mom's death was extremely difficult for Filbert, he is living his life with enthusiasm. I'm incredibly proud of him, because he came in #3 in his class (the best school around) this past term; he's incredibly bright, and I can't wait to see how God continues to use Him in the future. His smile and loving hugs always brings joy to my days.

My family recently started sponsoring Filbert, so he made this video for them to say hello and Merry Christmas! I wanted to introduce Filbert to you all, as well.

And remember, DP still has children who are waiting to be sponsored! Contact me if you're interested (only $25 a month.)


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