Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Youth Camp: Outreaches Part 2

Another day we took all 250 kids out again and did community service projects. Some groups cleaned out wells, others helped families fetch water, and some built dish drying racks and cleaned the compounds of elderly widows.

I was with a group of all girls that were stationed at the home of an elderly widow. The girls cleaned up the garbage around the outside of the house and burned it.


Then they built a dish drying rack for the woman. They dug holes in the ground with a machete,
chopped down some saplings, put them in the ground,
and then made the rack by nailing smaller saplings into the larger frame.

Only a few of them could work at a time so some were just sitting around. So I asked them, is there anyone nearby that you could share God’s love with? They looked and found someone.

But he ran away because all he wanted was to buy alcohol.

Eventually they began talking to a man and his wife, the ones selling the alcohol. I stood there, again only picking words here and there since they were speaking Luganda. They were sharing with him and also trying to get him to go to the big gathering we had planned for the next day. He kept refusing and I could tell the man was giving them a hard time. He was trying to prove that drinking wine was ok because Jesus made water into wine.

Then the man saw me there. I don’t know if he was drunk or what exactly was going on, but he was afraid of me. He was almost like the really little kids who see me coming close and flip out, except he didn’t make a sound. He just sat there looking terrified. He said that any muzungu (white person) he ever heard about always sprayed something when they came near a black person because they smell. The girls were trying to explain to him that I am different and not at all like that.

I know how to greet in Luganda, so the girls suggested that I greet him. I tried but he wouldn’t shake my hand. So I did what I’ve seen countless Ugandans do when greeting someone: I got down on my knees and offered my hand and said, “Oli otya.” Which means, “How are you?”

He looked at me as if he had just watched a third eye appear on my forehead. It was the strangest sight for him.

The girls told me to tell him some Luganda I know. So I just started going through parts of the body, because that’s what I know best. With every word I spoke in Luganda, he loosened up. He even started smiling.

When I had run out of Luganda words to say, he just sat there. He was amazed, not that I knew Luganda, but that I had knelt to greet him. In Ugandan culture that is a sign of honor. In his eyes I, a white woman, honored him, an African man. 

After that he asked about the large gathering we were having the next day and promised he would consider coming.

A seed was planted all because a group of Ugandan girls stopped to talk and because a white girl knelt in the Ugandan dirt.

Youth Camp: Outreaches Part 1

Throughout the week of camp, we studied Acts 1-5. Each morning the kids heard from a speaker and then broke into small groups for Bible Studies. But in the afternoons we did something we’ve never done before. We took 250 kids outside the gates of Upendo to share Christ with the community.

The first day was a one on one outreach. Working with local churches, we broke the kids up into small groups and they went out to different areas visiting homes and sharing the gospel. The team brought Gospel color bracelets which told the story of the gospel through colors. Some of the students used these, while others just shared from their hearts. Some groups walked for miles just to get to where they were going, and other groups went so far they had to take the van to get there.

 Since we had so many groups it was hard to get all of the stories. I was in a group with 3 students. At one of the homes we visited we met a young man and some of his friends. From the moment I saw him I knew something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes. He was either really sick or he was on something. But then I saw the eyes of his buddies and knew it had to be drugs because they all had the same bloodshot, glazed over look.

My group only had one guy and he took the lead at this home. He spoke mostly Luganda, so it was difficult for me to understand everything he was saying, but I picked a few words here and there. In the end the man decided to accept Christ and said he would go to church that week. The young  guy in my group made sure to explain that his decision meant that he would have to stop doing drugs. He said he understood, so we are praying that he will turn his life around.

Youth Camp: City on a Hill

On Saturday, January 11, I welcomed my second big team from the US. The purpose of this team was to help with 2 youth camps. The first was a camp for only AMG students from High School through University. The theme for this year’s camp was “Called 2 Mission,” taken from Acts 1:8. The organizers of the camp asked me to be the main speaker for Monday night’s kick off.

I started by giving part of my testimony about how growing up I always went church so I knew a whole lot about God. I knew what Jesus did on the cross. But the problem was I didn’t really know Him personally. It’s kind of like knowing a lot about a celebrity, even though you don’t really know them face to face. I shared all of that because I felt that there must be others out there facing the same. They’ve grown up through the AMG program, they’ve heard God’s word over and over. They know a lot of about God, but do they really know Him?

I talked about the reasons why we don’t come to know Christ. We make excuses, that we’re young and still have plenty of years ahead of us to get serious in our faith. Or maybe it’s family circumstances. Or maybe it’s lack of proof. Because let’s face it, some of the stories of the Bible sound just plain crazy. Did Jonah really get swallowed by a big fish? Did Daniel really survive the lion’s den? And if all of that is hard enough to believe, then what about a man who was born to a virgin and died on a cross all to save us from our sins?! We become like Thomas. We want proof.

See the issue with my message was that I was supposed to preach about the coming of the Holy Spirit. But we have so many students in our programs who don’t even know Christ personally. I felt so strongly that I had to talk to them first. So like a true Ugandan, I spent the first 25 minutes just talking to them.

Then I started my message…

My message came from Acts 1. But I basically focused on the fact that we are called to be a light in this world. In fact in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us we are the light of the world. Not the light of the church, or the light of AMG, but we are the light of the world.

I then lit a candle and explained that in a well lit room, my candle doesn’t do much. But in a dark room, it makes a big difference. At that point all the lights went out and only the light from my candle could be seen in the main hall. I had the team and the Ugandan Bible Study leaders come up. I explained that when I know Christ I become a light in the world. The candle represented that light. So I lit the candle of the person next to me. Maybe I shared Christ with her. Then for the next maybe a word of encouragement, and for the next I brought food or clothes when they had none. Those leaders then went out and started lighting the candles of all of the campers, and in about 1 minute that main hall was flooded with light.

Then I challenged them. If the entire main hall can be lit from the flame of one candle, imagine what would happen if all 250 of us went out into the world to spread the flame. We could truly light the world.

We listened to City Harmonic’s “City on a Hill,” because our job for the remainder of the week was not only to study the Bible and have fun at camp, but to actually go out into the community and spread the light of Christ.

To Market to Market

To market to market to buy us some stuff

Will we make it out of here, that will be tough!

To market to market to buy some supplies

Home again home again before she cries!


Kaitlyn and I were on the team in charge of buying supplies for youth camp. So on Friday, January 10, we headed out with Elijah and Sylvia to one of the largest markets in Uganda. What we found amazed us.

The area was packed with shoppers who stopped at the shops lining the streets, shops offering stacks of thermoses, pots and pans, buckets, basins, candy, brooms, rakes, soccer balls, flip flops, and toilet paper. Men walked through carrying baskets full of oranges or bananas on their heads. Colorful African fabrics and white mosquito nets hung from the balconies of the second floor of the buildings, along with plastic chairs fixed to the sides of the walls , which led me to wonder why because they could never hold someone , and who would want to climb that high to sit? A woman with a wooden box sets up shop in the middle of the street, setting out the assortment of panties for sale.  Over the bustle of people greeting, talking, and negotiating is the chant of a Muslim call to prayer. An occasional truck would boldly make its way through the narrow street, trampling over the garbage scattered on the pavement.  The late morning sun makes its way over the top of the buildings and people begin to set up large umbrellas to keep out of the heat. Wherever I go I hear things like, “Muzungu! How are you?” Or, “Muzungu! You buy sandals!” A boda boda snakes its way through, honking as it goes. We come to the shop where we will buy most of our supplies for the day. I stand there with Sylvia as we go through our budget. Until suddenly I hear someone shouting outside. They’re saying, “REPENT AND BE FORGIVEN OF YOUR SINS.” But the voice seems familiar to me. I glance outside to find Byron, my coworker from Upendo and my appointed “Ugandan big brother.” He was just passing by and happened to see me and wanted to get my attention. We make our way back to the truck. A young Ugandan man carries the 20 buckets, pesticide, and butter in a box on his head, with the 40 rolls of toilet paper wrapped in plastic in his hand and leads the way through the middle of a clothing store, through the next street, all the way to the AMG truck where we’re finally ready to head back with a new experience under our belts.

A New Look for the Girls' Dorm

To keep ourselves busy before the team came, Kaitlyn and I set out to paint the girls dorm. Before we started it had been painted white, but after a few years of kids traipsing through smearing their dirty hands and feet along the walls, and with the everyday dust and dirt that comes through the windows and doors, it was really looking rough.



We went down to clean it up a bit before painting. The girls have been away for over a month. There were spider webs and nests everywhere, there were rat droppings all over the window sills, wasps kept dive bombing our heads, and there was dirt everywhere.


Kaitlyn went to work wiping down the walls while I washed up the window sills.


We then had the job of sanding down the dirtiest parts of the walls so the paint would actually stick.


We even got some help from one of the girls who wasn’t able to go home over the break.


Then the real fun began. We painted the walls purple. We wanted something fun for girls and what’s more fun than purple?


Then we set out to decorate the walls. Kaitlyn wrote out some scripture on the walls.


I added designs around the doorways.


And flowers went in for the littlest girls.


Kaitlyn put the fruits of the spirit around the walls of the secondary girls’ wing.


We added grey trim around the bottom and within about a week’s time, it was finished. Now it’s all ready for the girls to move in.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Almost Deported

Yes, you read that correctly. On Monday, December 30, 2013, I had a bit of a deportation scare. It was certainly a memorable way to finish out 2013!

You see, my temporary visa expired on Christmas, which of course is a public holiday so the immigration office was closed that day. I also happened to be out of town. I had talked to a lady at the immigration office a few weeks prior to this, and she said to just come back after Christmas and it would all get taken care of. But when I showed up the day before New Years Eve, she wasn’t there. Someone else pointed us in the direction of “Room 1” or as I now like to think of it “the room of terror.”

It wasn’t even really a room at all. It was a window with bars on it. It was on the bottom part of an incline so when I stepped up to it the counter came up to within about 2 inches from my chin. I smiled at the lady as I told her what happened. She impatiently listened to me with her brows coming to a point above her eyes. My heart started beating rapidly and I started sweating. I didn’t have a good feeling about this.

I told her I was still waiting on my work permit to finish up and just needed an extension. Those words became the match strike that lit the gasoline of her annoyance. She informed me that I should have finished those papers when I was still in the US and that she would not be giving me the extension on my visa because I’m not a visitor anymore so if I wanted to stay in Uganda then I had to first leave, go home, and come back when the papers were in order, and does anyone have a paper bag I could breathe into?

At that point all the blood rushed from my head. It was the craziest thing. If it had happened back at the beginning of November I honestly think I would have said, “Fine. I’ll just go home! I’m ok with that! Send me now!” But ironically enough I had been writing in my journal the day before about how I was finally feeling settled in here. I was finally getting really, genuinely excited about the ministry to come, and less homesick. My mindset had changed from, “How can I possibly do this for 21 more months?” to “I only have 21 months left?!” I finally truly feel at peace and at home here and now they want me to leave?! How messed up is that?!

I called Reuben (the director of AMG Uganda). He was still in the village. I was almost in a panic. I knew I wouldn’t actually have to go home, but if it came down to it I could take a bus to Kenya, get a hotel, and come back the next day and have a new visa. But of course that didn’t sound great either. Reuben told me not to worry, that we’d take care of it the next day.

We had to do some grocery shopping. I was trying my hardest not to cry, and just waiting for someone to grab me and drag me off to the airport.

 The day itself had started out bad. I had awakened suddenly from a terrible nightmare. I couldn’t find my passport earlier in the morning. And on the way into the city, we saw the mangled remains of a woman who had been struck on the side of the road. It was an emotionally exhausting day.

But the next day we went back. The frustrating thing about Uganda is that it’s corrupt and nothing goes as it should. But the good thing about Uganda is that it’s corrupt and nothing goes as it should. In America, if an immigration officer denied me a visa extension, I would have been escorted to the nearest airport and sent on my way on my dime. But in Uganda, she didn’t find out my name or anything. So we just showed up the next day to try again. Luckily, we found the first lady I dealt with who is higher up in rank than the mean lady. And since Reuben was with me it all went smoothly. I even managed not to have any fines along the way.

It shouldn’t have surprised me though. This whole process has been one twist and turn after another. It was just another to add to the list of adventures I’ve had along the way. And certainly an interesting way to end out 2013!

New Kids at School

We have some new little kids here at Upendo. They’re so tiny and cute, but also very mischievous.


They’re very good at making noise, especially at night and the early morning.

They are constantly knocking on our door to for us to come out to play.

We enjoy sitting out on the porch watching as they run, jump, and eat grass.

They make us laugh, they drive us nuts, and that makes us love them.

Our little Cabbage Patch Kids.

The Power

Here in Uganda, to say that the power is not stable would be a gross understatement. The power is never stable. One minute it’s there, and the next it’s not. In the 3 and a half months since I arrived here, I think I’ve had power all day and night only a handful of times. At one point or another during the day or night it will inevitably go out (which is why I have flashlights and tap lights in every room in the house), and it always seems to go off at such inopportune times.

Like when Kaitlyn and I were sitting and eating dinner after 7pm one night (that’s when it gets dark here). I had just moved the flashlight on the table because it was stuck between the table and the wall. Not even 10 seconds later it suddenly went dark. We heard the screech from our little 6 year old neighbor as I was feeling around for the flashlight and trying not to knock over my supper.

One day, the power shut off while we were shopping at the grocery store. There we were standing in the middle of the produce section, checking out the apples and off it went. It’s much harder to find the fresh apples with no lights.

Another night it started flickering while we were watching an episode of the Big Bang Theory. The tv, lights, fan, and fridge kept switching on and off, on and off. We finally had to just turn everything off so it didn’t ruin all our electronics.

 Other times it goes off in the middle of the night. That one usually causes me to sit straight up in bed because my fan shuts off and suddenly it’s completely silent. Even the crickets go silent for a minute as if they’re wondering why it’s so dark out.

It also tends to go out just before I want to take a shower in the morning. The hot water works with electricity so that always means a cold shower to start the day.

 One time it went off while I was taking a shower before bed. There’s two unpleasant things going on there because not only is it pitch black in the bathroom when that happens, but the water gets cold very quickly and I have to feel my way around to turn off the water and then find the tap light in the bathroom.

And you can always tell when the electricity comes on after being off for a while. First of all you can usually hear the fridge kick on, and when we hear that click, it’s a massive rush to get any electronics plugged in to recharge so we can be prepared for next time. Because there will be a next time. But the question remains…when?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

100 Days: A New Normal

In kindergarten classrooms all around the US, it’s a big deal to celebrate the 100th day of school. I’m not sure if the children are celebrating the fact that they can count to 100 or the teachers are celebrating because they survived 100 days with a bunch of 5 year olds. I’m not in kindergarten, nor am I teaching it. But I am 8,000 miles away from home and that, my friends, is reason enough to celebrate the fact that I have now been here (survived?) 100 days.
The last 100 days have been a huge adjustment, but lately I have found myself living in a “new normal.” So much of life in Uganda is anything but normal compared to my life in the States, but it’s all slowly becoming part of a new normal in this new home of mine.
For example: washing all of my clothes, sheets, and towels by hand, scrubbing them, and getting soaked in the process is not normal by my standards in the US, but it’s part of my new normal. Cooking everything from scratch or needing to filter all of the water I drink not for better taste but for health reasons is not normal in the US, but it’s part of my new normal here. Sweating in January, having internet that’s slower than dial up, electricity that is constantly being turned off at random times is not normal in the US, but it is part of my new normal here. It’s not normal at home to have dark faced children peeking through my windows to see how I live or people watching my every move. At home it’s not normal to sleep in a net or actually be afraid to be bit by a mosquito. It’s not normal to be far away from family and friends or hear so many different languages throughout the course of one day. It’s not normal to teach children in a lecture setting, or have only 2 options of bread or 3 options of breakfast cereal at the grocery store. It’s not normal to drive on the left side of the road and it’s definitely not normal to have boda bodas weaving in and out of traffic.
None of that is normal by the standards of my home in the US, but after 100 days it is all part of my new normal here in Uganda.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Always an Adventure

Life is an adventure here in Uganda, and even more so now that Kailtlyn is here. In the last 2 weeks it seems like wherever we go and whatever we do an adventure awaits.

After coming back from our Christmas in Jinja, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some things since we had emptied the fridge before we left. We picked up the necessities and headed back to the house. The sun was beating down on us the whole way home. It was around 85 degrees outside and felt closer to 90 in the car.

It took us about 40 minutes to drive along the main road from the grocery store to the trading center we turn to take to Upendo. We bumped along for another 10 minutes on the backroads. When we reached the gate at Upendo, it was padlocked shut. We honked for the guard, but no one came. We waited a few minutes and honked some more, but still no guard.

My mom is a cook, so I know far too much about food safety, so because of the temperature and the length of time it took us to get to the house, I was getting nervous about our meat.

So we devised a plan…

If we could just get over the wall, then we could make it to the house and put the meat in the fridge and everything would be ok until someone came.

So I pulled the Mzungu Mobile (that’s what I named my car. And, yes, it resides in the Mzungu Cave) up right next to the wall and we rolled down the passenger window. Kaitlyn drew the short straw, or more accurately I told her that because she was the gymnast she had a better dismount so she climbed her way up the wall.


She sat perched there like an owl for a few minutes trying to figure out her next step.


Then over the edge she went.

I handed her the meat through the gate and she walked to the house to put it in the fridge.

A few minutes later the guard showed up. He’d gone out quickly to buy something up the hill and he unlocked the gate for me to drive in.

There’s really never a dull moment with Kaitlyn and I here. I’m just glad that I have someone to laugh with about these crazy things!

Christmas Memories

Our Christmas break was filled with making memories. We spent 3 and a half days in Jinja, a town approximately 60 miles from Kampala. It is also where the Nile River (the White Nile) begins its journey toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Our hotel room faced the Nile so we spent a good portion of our time sitting outside on our small porch reading, journaling, blogging, and talking.

It was also the first year I can ever say that I laid out at the pool on Christmas day, which might seem like I’m bragging and I sort of am. But for anyone who knows me well, you know that to me, Christmas and snow go together. When I was growing up, I always prayed for a White Christmas. So to spend Christmas on the equator where it was 85 degrees was very foreign to me.

The day after Christmas, Kaitlyn and I enjoyed a day of fun out on the town. No, we weren’t partying. That’s not our style. Instead we geared up for an adventure.

We went on an hour safari aboard 4-wheelers. We revved up the engines and raced along the dirt roads taking in the scenery. We looked out over Bujagali Lake and took in the sights of Uganda’s hydroelectric dam.

We were absolutely filthy afterward. It hasn’t rained here in quite some time, so it was very dusty. We had to wear bandanas over our faces to keep the dust from getting into our lungs. They also gave us goggles. Kaitlyn wore them, but since I wear glasses, I couldn’t. When we finished between the lack of goggles and the immense amount of dust, this is what I looked like:

After 4-wheeling, we rented a tandem kayak and launched out onto Bujagali Lake for an hour. We rowed upstream, working a bit on our teamwork rowing together.

But mostly just having fun.

It wasn’t the typical Christmas filled with traditional cookie baking, Christmas lights, and Christmas trees. It was our own brand of fun filled with memories that will last us a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


“Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us.” – 1 Samuel 7:12

We’re now looking at 2013 in the rearview mirror. It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone already. It seems like only yesterday I was sitting at my apartment back home in the States ringing in the New Year with my best friend, still praying that God would provide the supporters for me to come to Uganda.

But now, 12 months later, I find myself looking back at all the Lord has done and I couldn’t help but think of a song the kids sing during our fellowships together. It’s in Luganda and it says,

Ebenezer Mukama afuga,

Ebenezer atuje waala.


The rough translation is:

God has brought us, He is in control of everything

He has brought us from afar.


Looking back on 2013 both at home and abroad, in plenty and in want, through sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, I can say with confidence, “Thus far the Lord has helped me.” In everything He has brought me through and I know that I am stronger than ever because of all that I have passed through this year.


And as I look ahead at 2014, I know that waiting for me at the other side of midnight are more trials and more victories, more prayers and more answers, more love and more heartache. Just as he brought me through the ups and downs of 2013, he will continue to guide me and bring me through. And at the end of 2014, I look forward to again singing,