Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Aniya: Scuse me... (poke, poke in my side) What's your name again?
Me: Miss Shannon
Aniya: Miss Shannon, you are very beautiful.

Again... why I teach preschool :)

Monday, December 08, 2008

growing up...

I made a comment on Friday to a little boy that I thought he'd grown 5 inches since I last saw him... and another little girl, Katie, heard the comment and as we walked out of music class she says to me,

Miss Shannon, I'm growing so much I have to limbo to get out the door.

The doors are 10 feet tall :) wishful thinking dear...i feel ya.

Friday, December 05, 2008

the end of a class

Today was my last day at practicum for this semester... I've loved my kids on Fridays. They are 16 wild ones with beautiful imaginations.

Some favorite quotes from the last day:

I was "painting" with shaving cream with Merritt... I asked her, "What does it smell like Mer?"
Merritt: (thinks...thinks...thinks....) CLOUDS!

Then I was reading a book called I Heard Said the Bird to Kiki... which obviously is about rhyming... and as I was pointing out some words that rhymed like bird, heard, word... Kiki shouts with glee, "TURD!"

This. Is. Why. I. Love. Preschool.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Today we had Snowman Festival... its our Winter Carnival for Jumpstart...

picture 80 4 year olds and their enthusiastic and slightly anxious teachers descending upon UVA's campus to spend two hours downing hot chocolate as fast as it can cool, pouring glitter on glue soaked pinecones, chucking balls at an unfortunate snowman, and singing songs we made up on the fly...

then picture all of us Corps Members laying on the floor in delighted exhaustion.

it was fabulous.

My favorite quote of the day was as I was leading a group of students into the building and I was talking to two little boys.

Marlo: My birthday!
Me: When's your birthday?
Me: No way! Today is your birthday?
Adrian: No, Miss Bremer... it's RIGHT NOW, not today.

:) that made my Right Now.

Monday, December 01, 2008



About two years ago I had the privilege of walking home with a man named Tommy. He told me was from North Carolina, that he loved Jesus and that he just had a problem with drinking. That was my first introduction to a man with a kind smile who I continued to catch up with on various street corners around Charlottesville, until recently.

Our church, Trinity Presbyterian, has gotten in the wonderful habit of displaying art and photographs and having openings for the different exhibits. This month, we have the privilege of hanging a handful of James Erickson's paintings of homeless men. James paints on HUGE pieces of cardboard, about 15' by 10', honoring these men and the beauty of their lives by making their portraits enormous... too big to be passed by or ignored, as we so often do on the corner.

Last week at the opening, I stood in the center of the gallery area just turning, turning, turning... in awe and in love with what I saw. James didn't just paint these men. He knows them. And he brought them to Trinity for the opening! Beside each man's portrait was a letter he had written to James... and beside that letter stood the men themselves. It was a cold night, and everyone was mingling without removing their coats and hats... so to be honest I had a hard time picking out who was homeless and who was a normal figure in the church.... which was BEAUTIFUL and as it should be. Fewer categories being formed, more stories being told.

I was getting ready to leave, when I came around the corner and there was the biggest of all the paintings. It hung from ceiling to floor in the entry to the worship room, full of color and life. Gentleness, humility, brokenness, and beauty. Tommy Parker. I stopped, and smiled. There was my friend!

I wondered why he wasn't present that night... but figured I'd see him around town.

Then a friend informed me that Tommy had passed away in October, and I got to read the end of his story here: http://commongroundsonline.typepad.com/common_grounds_online/2008/11/in-memory-of-to.html

I am thankful to whoever provided him a bed to rest in, and to James for making his smile larger than life. And to Tommy, for introducing himself.

Merry Christmas?

Chris was playing with some farm animal figurines this morning. He had them all lined up and grouped by type of animal... I wandered over and we were having a grand ole time making animal noises together.

Chris decided that since we went on a fieldtrip to a farm to see animals, the animals were coming on a fieldtrip to see us at school!

One of the cows fell over, and I said, "Uhoh, Chris... what happened to the cow?"

Chris replied, "Oh, somebody shot it. Santa's not gonna be happy that someone shot his cow."


After recess (a chilly 35 degrees) the adults in the classroom were making some tea. Jaqueline asked, "what's that?" and we explained that it was tea. She said, "My mama drinks that, but it's black." And we said, "Oh, is it tea or is it coffee?"

Jaqueline replied, "She drinks coffee! But everytime it makes her go to the bathroom bad."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big G

a few quotes from one of my little boys...

Yesterday Garrett told his mom he didn't like school. She said, "Yes you do! You love school, you always come home talking about what you did. What do you not like about school?"

Garrett said, "Miss Betsy always makes me do these 20 hour long art projects and I'm just tired of it!"

:) apparently our art lesson was a little intense this week.

In music class today Garrett climbed up on my lap, wrapped his lil 4 year old arms around my neck and whispered in my ear, "It's going to be a very long time until I let you go, Miss Shannon."

makes. my. day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

a bilingual lunch with team awesome

Team Awesome

Every Tuesday and Thursday I work with an organization called Jumpstart. It's an Americorps partner organization whose goal is to work towards the day when every child enters Kindergarten ready to succeed.

Our team works with a local elementary school's two pre-k classes two days a week one one one with some fabulous children! I can't show any pictures of the kids... but trust me they are ah-dorable.

We end our time with the classes by having lunch with a select few children. The teachers are always on the lookout for "good citizens" and children who are "listening with their whole body" to come have lunch with us in the common area.

Well today's lunch was extra special. We had two boys eat with us (and some cute girls too)... I'll call them Evan and Jose. (none of the names on this blog are the actual names of the children)...

Well Jose is a Spanish-only student... he's learning a lot of English, but is pretty silent most of the time. Evan, however, speaks entirely in English at school and in Spanish at home. We were trying to talk to Jose during lunch, asking him questions, trying to say "apple sauce" in Spanish. How many adults does it take to make a complete sentence in Spanish? In this case, four :)

There we were piecing together sentences to talk to Jose... and when we finally got one correct, he bursts into this "alaksdhfklasjdhfklasjhdfklajhsdfkasjhdf" of Spanish to us! We all looked at each other and said, "uhoh. What in the world did he say!?"

Then we realized Evan could translate!! Jose repeated what he said to Evan, who threw his hands in the hair and exclaimed, "AI!"

When we asked Evan what Jose had said he grinned and said, "I don't know."

Riiiiiight. That's when we knew we were in trouble :) Before we knew it the two of them were chattering away, pointing at various members of our team and laughing. Trouble :) The most we could catch was them calling Lanita a Water Head (we think because her hair is wavy) and the rest of us Apple Heads.

When Lanita tried to ask Evan a question, he sighed and said, "You always say everything wrong."

Well... at least we tried. This girl needs to keep taking Spanish.

Monday, November 17, 2008

interesting thanksgiving...

Teacher: Does anyone remember who the pilgrims were?
Child: ALIENS!



I start off my Monday mornings with practicum at one of the county schools. I work in a pre-K class that serves at risk children and children with identified disabilities... and it's really a FANTASTIC way to start the week.

Today I left my house at 8:10am, and normally it takes me about 10 minutes to get to school, but there was a rather large accident on the way so I didn't arrive until 8:50am (whoops). My kids were already in music class so I just jumped right in singing "Five Fat Turkeys" with them and was greeted with many hugs.

Our morning message always says "Good morning! Today is..... and then a sentence or two about our days. Today's was already up on the whiteboard in the class and it said:
Good morning!
Today is Monday.
Today we have music.

One of the little boys asked to add a sentence that said: Miss Bremer is here today!

And then at recess one of the boys from the other Pre-K class ran up to me and said, "You look beautiful today!"

Now THATS the way to start off the week.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

being a grown up...

Qui'Nazhia: I'm a grown up, Miss Shannon.

Me: Oh really? What makes you a grown up?

Q: I tell people what to do.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

New Favorite Pick-up Line:

"Miss Shannon, your nose sparkles."

-- Max, age 2

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Special guests

Today at Jackson-Via we had some musicians come and play for our two preschool classes. One particularly enthusiastic girl announced, "Oh I LOVE munitions!!!"


Monday, October 27, 2008

Today I walked into my Monday morning practicum site and first of all was greeted with a sweet hug from one of my little boys. There's nothing like starting the week off like that!

Then another little boy who is almost entirely a Spanish speaker came running up to me and announced, "I am having a happy Halloween!" Its Oct. 27th :)

It's the first sentence I've EVER heard him speak! He usually just says "Yup" and "Whats'at?" repeatedly. It's so fun to see how much his vocabulary is expanding... today he also correctly named Circles and Squares in Colorama (you know you wish you got to play that game).

Happy day...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Some choice quotes from the week...

My Shannon is weird.
-- Annabel

You smell like an airplane!
-- Jaylyn

Ania: I saw the real Cinderella. Her sisters made her do all the work. That wasn't very nice.
Me: That's true. What could Cinderella have done about that?
Ania: She could pack up her stuff and leave.
Me: Why do you think she decided to stay instead?
Ania: Because the prince was there of course.

Me: Liv, what did you like about the trip to Whole Foods last week?
Livia: The goat cheese! It tasted like clouds.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

a fruitful weekend

It was the annual apple festival at Carter's Mountain Orchard this weekend!
Ellen and I headed up the mountain in lil rojo with some of our favorite ladies...

We wandered through the trees in search of the perfect apples... and it ended up that we picked 20 pounds of apples!!! So we came home and got baking...
Apple Pie 2008

The lovely Lauren came over for dinner and brought her ice cream maker so we enjoyed delicious vanilla ice cream with our pie!

Then today after church we decided to put a few more pounds of apples to use in the neighborhood...

Homemade applesauce & molasses cookies

We wandered around the street meeting new neighbors and inviting them to our Pumpkin Carving Party later this month! I'm looking forward to it... and to more pie. :)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Let's Play Football!

I have two practicum sites this semester where I basically observe children in preschool programs and help the teachers in any way I can. So my Monday and Friday mornings are spent in two different schools in C'ville, and I always come home with stories.

Last Friday, during indoor recess one of the little boys in my class asked me to play football with him....

G: Miss Shannon! Will you play football with me?
Me: Well sure! Do you want me to be the quarterback or do you?
G: (looking confused) No, here's how we play... you throw the ball and I catch it. Then I fall down, and the other guy helps me up. Thats how you play football.
Me: Sounds good.

I proceed to throw the ball... which G attempts to catch :) He then ignores the ball and proceeds to flop his four-year-old self on the ground. I pause... he opens one eye and with a frustrated tone says,

G: Ok! Now you're the other guy. You have to help me up.

Which I did... because thats how you play football :)

more anne

Anne Lamott is one of my all time favorite authors... beloved for her wit, honesty about brokenness, and charming reliance on Jesus. I just started her latest book Grace (Eventually) and read this the other night...

I would be fine with life's contractions if they would simply pass when I am ready for them to, so I can be okay again and remember what, after all, I'm doing in labor. Being human can be so dispiriting. It is a real stretch for me a lot of the time.

Anne (we're on a first-name basis) is referring to childbirth and how the pain is worth the end result, much like the sufferings of our faith bring eventual glory. I just love her honesty here... you can hear her clench her fists and stomp her feet a little because life is just frustrating sometimes. Call it what it is!


I am so bad at posting on this... as my friend Stephanie and I talked about it feels weird to put your life on display, especially when you're just in the US (as compared to Uganda, Bolivia, Korea or one of the many other places my friends now live!)...

but as I muddle through gradschool there are some thoughts to share, some quotes that inspire, and some questions I have... so they'll come up occasionally!

Monday, August 18, 2008

wendell on lilies...

my sweet friend katie is often a source if literary delight to me... feeding my addiction to novels about the rest of this big world... so i went to her before i left for the beach to get some books to last me through the 10 day hiatus.

she sent me off with a compilation of wendell berry poems and i just delighted in them! especially the ones about nature just ran through my head as we kayaked through marshes into open ocean, walked over sand dunes down to kettle ponds, and saw lilies leaning with the bayside wind.

here's one of my favorites...

The Lilies

Hunting them, a man must sweat, bear
the whine of a mosquito in his ear,
grow thirsty, tired, despair perhaps
of ever finding them, walk a long way.
He must give himself over to chance,
for they live beyond prediction.
He must give himself over to patience,
for they live beyond will. He must be led
along the hill as by a prayer.
If he finds them anywhere, he will find
a few, paired on their stalks,
at ease in the air as souls in bliss.
I found them here at first without hunting,
by grace, as all beauties are first found.
I have hunted and not found them here.
Found, unfound, they breathe their light
into the mind, year after year.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Ten Thousand... Charms?

I heard this song the other day...

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus, ready, stands to save you
Full of pity, love and power

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
O, there are ten thousand charms

Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome
God's free bounty glorify
True belief and true repentance
Every grace that brings you nigh

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
O, there are ten thousand charms

Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of Him

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
O, there are ten thousand charms

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry 'til you're better
You will never come at all

I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
O, there are ten thousand charms

And when I heard it I was so moved thinking that the lyrics said "In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are then thousand TRIBES"... I just had this sweet picture of all these children and people I love from all over the world standing together in Jesus' arms.
But then I looked up the lyrics and was puzzled and amused to find it was ten thousand charms. As my sweet friend Lauren said, "Jesus has a big ole charm bracelet with all his chirrun hanging off it." So funny what we think we hear :)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

He Knows My Name

I have a maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call

I have a father
He calls me his own
He'll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name...

-- Geoff Moore

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Market Day!


My first day in Uganda was Market Day (Saturday), and while we only got to breeze through the 20,000 people who flock to Nyahuka to trade and sell their matoake (above, right), meat, beads, cloth... it was full of life, color, and community.

I woke up yesterday morning in my bed in Charlottesville and grinned... Market Day! I love the city market, which just started its season last week. As I gather my market bags and put on my walking shoes, it is really fun to be reminded that my friends in Uganda did the same thing 8 hours before me! I'm pretty sure I have an easier time getting what I need though.

Yesterday was such a day of participating in Charlottesville, I just had to write about it. I got up and enjoyed the usual (and mandatory) cup of coffee, lounging on the couches with Lauren as we read our books. Then my sweet friend Maggie and I went for a great run along the Rivanna trail. From my house you can walk 5 minutes to be on a bike path by the river and not even know you're in the city. Walk 5 minutes the other direction and you'll be in the center of downtown-- and the market! It's fabulous. So post-run I jumped in my little convertible, top down, and made my way for a quick trip to the market. Now, if i was being "true green Charlottesville" I would've walked... but I was pressed for time and on a hunt for veggies.

The market is full of my favorite venders... like the guy on the left. He sells goat cheese, which apparently the government has now regulated so he can't sell it... so he gives it away! People give donations to help support, but its free! There are always a multitude of flowers and fruit... usually I just walk up with a few dollars, enough to get a freshly made bagel, coffee, or lime iced tea from my favorite stalls. It's still early in the season for all of these fun things, so yesterday I got fresh salad greens for our dinner.
After the market I headed to Bread Works, a local bakery, to find some treats for dessert and breakfast. A few weeks ago I played Bingo at Johnson Elementary as part of their fundraiser (they raised over $2000!! someone else try this!) and had great prizes. I won 3 or 4 times, and I'm still living off those gift certificats to subway, salad creations, and Bread Works.
I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our house and making homemade veggie lasagna with homemade breadsticks-- my first attempt at both! I even tried to mow the lawn (my roommates know this is my least favorite task) but my attempts were thwarted when I couldn't start the lawn mower. Yes, there was gas in it. I wasn't that sad.
All of these preparations were in anticipation of my sweet friend Emily Weaver coming to visit! Emily has been in Botswana, Africa for the past 2 years working with Journeymen, a Baptist Mission, doing abstinence and HIV/AIDS education, and recently returned in November. We lived together/next door 3 of 4 years in college, and hadn't seen each other since graduation.
The day ended with us talking of Africa and what she misses most... we talked about how you linger over things like meals there because they take so long to prepare... and we ended our night lingering over that delicious lasagna and market salad, just catching up. A great C'ville day with flashes of Africa.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Christmas Goats

Right around Christmas, I was reading the Myhre's blog (http://www.paradoxuganda.blogspot.com/) and noticed that Jennifer had offered a non-traditional Christmas gift idea that would benefit World Harvest Mission.

A goat.

As WHM strives to live out their call to spreading the Gospel as well as making "life to the full" possible, they are thinking forward for the district of Bundibugyo. The Matiti goat project is taking mid-grade dairy goats (87%) and breeding them with the local (and useless) goats of Bundibugyo. The idea is that in a decade or so there will be a sustainable and extremely useful resource for the district. The goats that have been donated are being given to HIV positive mothers who wean their children from breastfeeding after 6 months to prevent the risk of HIV transmission. They are also being bred by the townspeople! We visited several villages where goats are being kept and saw how proud the Ugandans are to be entrusted with such a task!

Both of these are "goat owners." The man is holding a record of all the times his goat has been "serviced" by female goats! The woman on the right was so proud to show us her two female goats that she is entrusted with.

After a full day, I was really tired and not terribly excited about seeing one more goat (my true American self coming out in full force at this point in the trip)... but the last village we tromped through turned out to be such a blessing to me. We joked that there was an 18:1 ratio of children to adults in this village, and the children flocked around me, probably because I was their height!! While the others attended to the goats (again Wade's hand made its way into their mouths) and listened to the presentation, I was busy distracting the children and occasionally causing problems! They were afraid of my lily-white skin, and when I would reach out my hand to them they ran back a few feet squeeling!! Finally, one brave boy pushed his way through the inner ring of children and walked up to grasp my hand. Apparently that was all they needed to be encouraged to get close... for the rest of the visit they were like a small, moving skirt around me and Lisa! And their presence, laughter, and curiosity was so uplifting...
The Christmas goat donations were amazing generous, and just the other day at 3am about 50 goats were delivered to the Masso's door! They are being distrubuted to new homes across the disctrict (a big job!) and with eat goat comes hope for milk and food, determination for change, and a restoration of community pride. The project is ongoing, and you can learn more here: http://www.whm.org/project?ID=12371 as well as on the Bundinutrition blog: http://bundinutrition.blogspot.com/.

Christ School

This is an aerial view of Christ School in Nyahuka, taken as we flew into Bundibugyo on our first day. The blue roofs mark the school's buildings-- which include a cafeteria of sorts, boys and girls dorms, Rwenzori Mission School (where the younger missionary kids study with Ashley and Sarah as teachers), and many classrooms.

Christ School was founded in 1999 by World Harvest Mission as a secondary school in the Ugandan school system. On the morning of our tour David and Annelise Pierce, the current headmaster of CSB and his wife, gave us a crash course in Ugandan education. Children enter pre-schools and primary schools, which are largely subsidized by the government now. However, for a child to attend they must wear a uniform, shoes, and have a shaved head (which is why we Americans have a hard time telling the boys from the girls sometimes!). Although the fees for attending school are taken care of for the most part, the additional fees for uniforms, notebooks, and hygeine are often too burdensome for families. As a result, a child may be run off the school property for having hair that's grown out and it will take him 2 weeks to earn the money to get a hair cut and thus return to school. As you can see, attendance is a challenge.

On top of that, the children aren't the only ones missing from the classrooms. Teachers are payed government salaries, and there is not much supervision over the system. Often teachers just don't show up for class.

Children attend Primary school P1-P7, somewhat like our 1st through 7th grades, although because of the delays caused by attendance and unclear age regulations a child in P7 may be significantly older than one of our 7th graders. At the end of Primary school there is a really tough exam called the PLE-- Primary Leaving Exam. This tests all the years of primary school knowledge and is the student's ticket either into secondary school or immediately into the work force. As Annelise described to us, in Uganda knowledge is power. The teacher holds the power and if you are lucky enough, you will be able to glean some of that power from them. It is not always the teacher's priority for their students to succeed. If a student passes the PLE with a high enough score, they can apply to various Secondary Schools. Unlike primaries, secondary schools are not funded by the government, and fees are steep by Ugandan standards. There are four levels of secondary school (again roughly equivalent to our high school). At the end of the four years, a student sits for the intense O-level examinations. If they pass O-levels, they can leave Secondary school and go into the work force, or continue on for two years of Advanced or A-level schooling (also taught at CSB). A student in A-levels chooses a concentration, math and physics for example, and spends a great deal of time focusing on these studies. Some A-levels then advance to the Universities. Others then join their peers in the work force.

I have to admit, once I heard the schedule that the CSB students adhere to, I was even more impressed with the dedication of the students and staff. Classes start around 7:45am and run until 4 in the afternoon. From 4-6pm there are clubs and sports (football being far and away the favorite of the Ugandans). Then dinner (cooked by a phenomenal and resourceful staff of 8!!) in the cafeteria, and 7pm-10pm mandatory study hours. Bed... repeat. The 340 students of CSB live on campus, as do the staff members. Below is a class and a girls' dorm (about 24 girls in this one room... simple bunks with a very few personal belongings).

Right now the staff of CSB is trying to increase the school's agriculural production to help feed the students and staff. A few years ago the students were given a choice between beef and rice/beans and they chose rice & beans. So their diet consists of three meals a day-- porridge for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch and dinner. They never get meat or fresh fruits and vegetables. The staff gets meat once/week, usually rabbit. The school is participating in World Harvest's attempt to breed the local goats with mid-grade dairy goats to eventually produce a sustainable source of milk and meat for the students... so we spent some time with the goats (Wade, being a large animal vet made sure they were all healthy by promptly sticking his hands in their mouths... yuck).

Our visit at CSB was wonderful... obviously my heart is for education and the work that they are doing is truly going to impact the future of the entire country! Part of me longed to return one day and teach the Ugandan kids, like my fellow Tribe member Scott Ickus did for a year. Keep tabs on David and Annelise here: http://www.christschoolbundibugyo.org/CSB%20home.html and please pray for their ministry! There's a link from this blog that tells how you can help with prayer and financial contributions... a worthy cause.

Here's Ashley in her sweet little classroom. She's done an amazing job with very little making it a wonderful place for her two Kindergarteners and

two third graders to come and learn every day!

Below is a picture of the batteries for the whole school in their chargers. The entire school (and all of the electricity in the district) is run on solar power!!

As with all of Uganda... Christ school was full of beauty.

sorry for the break

Sorry for the break in posts lately... it's been a busy April, and we're only 10 days in.

The big news is that I got into the University of Virginia for graduate school! In the fall I will start a two year program working towards a Masters in Teaching in Early Childhood and Developmental Risk Education. It's the only program of its kind in the country and exactly what I hope to do with the rest of my working life, so needless to say after months of anticipation I was pretty pumped to recieve a letter from UVA! Lauren was with me and we woke up all our neighbors with our screams I think! :)

Appropriately, where I left off in the story of my trip to Uganda was the day where we toured Christ School...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Monday :: Kwejuna Project

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday morning Pat, Heidi, and I sat around Pat's kitchen table eating breakfast and preparing for the day ahead. Monday was the long-awaited Kwejuna Project, in which both Pat and Heidi are heavily involved. Pat helps to translate as the women's paperwork is processed and the team collects more information on where they live, how many children they have, whether their families have been tested for HIV, etc. I had already seen Heidi at work on the medical paperwork for the women for the past two days; she would be giving shots as well as weighing babies and doing check-ups. As we ate, Pat told us how that morning God had given her a "word to throw" as they say in Uganda to the women at Kwejuna. That word was Isaiah 54:4-14, where God speaks to Israel as to an estranged wife. I had yet to personally experience the depth of suffering of Kwejuna, but Pat's words were preparing my heart and already reminding me that God is the one and only Redeemer...

The day before Heidi and I had been talking about a few of the many differences she has observed in her transition from an American children's hospital to Nyahuka Health Center in Uganda. One change that she was actually enjoying was hearing, "Thank you," everyday as she enters the health center or works with nutrition patients in the village. The Lubwisi word for thank you is Webale (pronounced way-bah-lay). Because many of the schools and health centers are goverment operated, there is not a lot of accountability for the government employees, allowing them to slack off or even not show up for work at all some days! Schools and hospitals go without so many vital employees because of this corruption. So when someone like Heidi shows up faithfully everyday, Webale is what she hears because the people truly are thankful.

Heidi also told me how when a baby is born, instead of telling the mother, "Congratulations," as we do here... they say, "Webale kwejuna" which means, "Thank you for surviving."

It is from this expression that World Harvest has taken the name for its HIV/AIDS project: Kwejuna. Survival.

Every 2-3 months, women from all over the Bundibugyo region come to Bundimulinga, the Community Center on the mission, to recieve treatment, get check-ups for their children, and to get food. World Harvest passes out a huge amount of beans, rice, and flour to these women to supplement their diets and hopefully sustain their lives. The women also recieve a shot of Depovera, which is a three month birth control, to hopefully prevent the transmission of HIV to more children.

As we walked up to the community center, we could hear the hundreds of women and children talking and gathering. World Harvest staff was already hard at work by the time we arrived-- Pat was calling woman after woman to ask them questions. Heidi was already elbow deep in giving Depo shots. Children were everywhere about the concrete floor, and mothers were waiting.

I admit, I felt like I was stepping into the work of the mission, and I longed to be able to help in a practical roll-up-my-sleeves kind of way. But I am not a doctor, nurse, translator, nutritionist... and I really struggled to put away my practical side as we were lead into a side room away from the fray and given our work: prayer.

After the women had receieved all of the Kwejuna benefits, they were to come to us in groups of 3-4 to be prayed over. Our missions team split into two groups, with Lisa and I in separate groups so each group had a woman representative, which turned out to be greatly helpful. Several men who lead the church were our translators, and we took our places on the benches to wait. After a few minutes, Matt stood up and read to us from the scriptures, and with tears pouring down his cheeks exhorted us to pray with the expectation that THIS would be a day and place where God would show up. To pray with expectation. My brow furrowed... this was going to be long, hard work. Suddenly I realized this WAS the work for us. And as Matt continued to read from the Word, my head shot up and I heard him echo Pat's words this morning-- Isaiah's words from over 2000 years ago:

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grived in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God....I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. (Isaiah 54:4-14)

Our prayers were to echo His word, to tell these women they were not forgotten by their Maker their Husband, and to remind them that His will would be done.

For about three hours we sat and heard stories of women who had been beaten for coming to Kwejuna because it meant acknowledging infection with HIV/AIDS... but they came. One woman had been kicked out of her husbands house by his family for being HIV+, and her prayer was of longing to see her husband and to be reunited because she loved him. She was probably no more than 16. They were all individuals but their stories were frighteningly similar-- of being the first wife cast off, of finding out they were HIV+ and being disgraced and ashamed, of dying mothers' fears for their children. We knelt at their feet and wept for pain that they bear, praying with expectation that the God of the Universe knows their names, stories, language, hearts, hopes and staggering fears. We held their sweet babies in our laps, their strong hands in ours, and told them how beautiful they are. That the God of the Universe is their Redeemer and their hope.

After the last woman had been loved and prayed for, I left heavy-hearted at the magnitude of suffering I had just seen. I left amazed at the words penned thousands of years ago that literally spoke directly to these women! I left confident that God knew each and every one of them. I left a little more broken and a great deal more in love with my Savior.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Drums::The Call to Worship

Our first morning waking up in Africa happened to be a Sunday morning.

On a normal Sunday morning in Charlottesville I would wake up to my alarm clock, the sound of one roommate getting in the shower, and the other shuffling to the kitchen to make our coffee. Otherwise, its relatively quiet in our little house.

Sunday morning in Bundibugyo (or any morning for that matter) was anything but quiet! That's one of the things I noticed immediately in BGO... as soon as there is light, there is noise. Birds get cranked up along with "bodabodas" (little motorcyles), morning greetings, the sound of foot traffic to and from Nyahuka, primary school children singing their way to school. On Sunday I heard the drums from the nearby church begin to pound out the call to worship.

After blueberry pancakes with the "household" we were joined by Kim and Lydia, two sweet orphans who Pat has taken under her wing. She was very close with their mother who passed away recently, and Kim (7) and Lydia's (5) chatter and sing-song "HEIDIHEIDIHEIDI" was a welcome part of our morning noise. Our team was divided among three churches this Sunday, with three of the men as guest preachers! We picked up Wade, our particular guest preacher, and literally turned right onto a road I never would have known existed. We had about a 45 minute ride through cocoa plants, coffee trees, vanilla vines (obviously I was among my favorite things), and huge matoake trees. We got a little confused at one point and had to stop and ask a nice man riding his bicycle with half a cow strapped to the back which way to go. Apparently we had just missed the mango tree that marked our left turn... of course.

When we arrived at the church-- no problems with parking here... we were the only car-- it was about 11am and surprisingly quiet! Pat explained that normally they have been singing for an hour by the time she arrives, but this particular community had celebrated a wedding in the church the day before (a big deal!!) and they were probably worn out. In Bundibugyo, the churches are trying to promote God's view of a monogomous marriage and it is a really significant step when a couple is "ringed" in a church ceremony, signaling their intention to be faithful to one partner the rest of their lives. Elders and pastors of the churches there must be ringed in order to be ordained. Many hold out hopes of being that one partner for life, and they expressed their approval of marriage everytime Craig and Lisa Wood were introduced as ringed husband and wife! It was so sweet to see the promotion of marriage and to be clapped for!

At our church we were seated in the only available chairs at the front of the congregation as special guests. The building was small, but breezy. As a church leader and his son began to pound on the drums outside, the village began to respond to the Call, trickling in and joining in the worship. Pat graciously handed us songbooks that are both in Lubwisi, the local language, and English. Lubwisi is fairly phonetic, so it was pretty easy to sing in their native language. How sweet to sing words like "He has made me glad... He is my Savior" in a language I didn't even know existed the day before!!

The words of Revelation 7:9-10 echoed in my heart, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lame, clothes in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb.'"

One day... it will be.

Obviously without my Order of Worship at Trinity, I was a little clueless as to the progression of the church service. We experienced more singing in Lubwisi, a woman's choir, a choir of children with beautiful clear voices, and quite a bit of dancing together! Wade preached on John 1 and the beauty of Christ who both tells the truth about our lives and our sin, and gives us unlimited grace.

After church we had the privilege of being hosted by the church leaders for lunch. Enjoying a warm Pepsi, we also got our first taste of Ugandan food. We were treated to sticky rice, sambe (like salty spinach), matoake, beans and sweet potatoes, and... they even killed a chicken for us!

Returning home around 4:30pm, we cleaned up and headed to the Myhre's house for the team's monthly Communion service. A beautiful, candelit time of fellowship and singing (in English this time) to end a day of worship.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

arrivals & new beginnings

February 23, 2008... we arrived at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda on time and WITH ALL OUR LUGGAGE. That was a HUGE answer to prayer as you can see from the picture above, we had a lot of it. Each of us brought at least one suitcase plus the big footlockers full of supplies for the missionaries-- everything from peanut M&Ms to solar panels!

Growing up my dad had always talked about his time in Africa and how he wished he could show me more than just pictures. He often spoke of a distinctly African smell... as I stepped off a plane for the second time in my life on Ugandan soil (or tarmac), I laughed as the man next to me said, "Smell's like burning. Welcome to Africa." It is true that there is always this unidentifiable burning smell in the air, but whatever the smell we were thankful that the first leg of our journey was complete.

After retrieving all of our luggage, we made it through customs with a wave from a woman who said, "Thank you for helping our country, because of people like you I have clean water. God Bless." Welcome to Africa.

We met Scott Will and Michael Masso, who had graciously driven 8 hours to meet us, at the airport gate. Because we were taking a tiny MAF plane to Bundibugyo, we needed to unload most of our cargo into Michael's truck before we boarded the plane.

We were taking about an hour flight all the way across Uganda to the western boarder with Congo, where Bundibugyo lies tucked against the Rwenzori mountains. Our pilot was excellent and decided to take us almost 17,000 feet in the air, flying us right over the top of Mt. Margurita and into the Congo! The view was breathtaking... as you can see.

The Rwenzori Mountains

We flew over Bundibugyo, and thanks to Paul Leary's narration, I was able to capture images of the town Nyahuka, where World Harvest Mission is located, as well as Christ School and the Health Center without really knowing what I was capturing!

To the left is the campus of Christ School-- you can see the track that my fellows Tribesman Scott Ickus built during his year in Bundibugyo, as well as the blue-roofed buildings of the school

Below is the Nyahuka Market. We flew in on a Saturday, which is market day, and about 15,000 people had descended on this tiny place for shopping-- gathering all things from clothing to beads, to meat, dried fish, matoake....
After many hugs and introductions at the landing strip, we were welcomed into our respective homes. Our team of 7 was split up for the week among the mission houses, and our hosts were so gracious to us! I had the privilege of being a part of the "Duplex household" of Heidi and Pat. Heidi is a nurse who had just arrived in Bundibugyo three weeks before. She is going to be doing work at the clinic with Jennifer as well as taking over a lot of the nutrition programs that Pamela and Stephanie have operated in the past few years. Pat Abbott has been in Bundibugyo as long as the Myhres-- almost 15 years! When I asked Pat what her role was, it was hard for her to define it in job description terms... but I was to see over the next week that her role was to know, love, and disciple the people around her, whether those people are visiting Americans, newly arrived missionaries, or Babwisi orphans. She is truly living out Jesus' call in Matthew 28 to Go and make disciples of all nations.

Our first team activity was to go and see Melen, the widow of Dr. Jonah Kule. Jonah gave his life to the treatment of the people of Bundibugyo during the Ebole epidemic this winter, leaving behind his wife and 5 daughters-- and just recently Melen gave birth to a sweet baby boy! We came to sit with her and to give her a framed edition of Harvester dedicated to Jonah's life. And this is where our team's tears began to flow...
Even now as I sit on my porch in Virginia writing this, I have Bebo Norman's The Hammer Holds playing in the background and it makes me think of what it mean to just sit and grieve with Melen...

A shapeless piece of steel, that's all I claim to be.
This hammer pounds to give me form, this flame, it melts my dreams.
I glow with fire and fury, as I'm twisted like a vine.
My final shape, my final form I'm sure I'm bound to find...
So dream a little, dream for me in hopes that I'll remain.

And cry a little, cry for me so I can bear the flames.
And hurt a little, hurt for me my future is untold.
But my dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds.

We finished that first day by making homemade pizzas in the Myhre's famous brick oven! Every Thursday the team gathers to scoop out the dough, top off the pizzas, and enjoy time together. It was a great first step into their lives... and a very full first day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

calling revisited

Yesterday I was asked the question, "Are you more dependant on Christ this year than you were last year?"

My brain must still be on Africa-time because I couldn't even wrap my mind around what I was doing or thinking this time last year. One of the many benefits of journaling I have found is the ability of really revisiting where I was, what I was thinking and experiencing a year ago.

So this morning, in an attempt to think about that question, I pulled last spring's journal off of the bookshelf. Among many things, I found this poem I had written one Friday afternoon at work at Trinity. At this point I was six months into my job here, and it had obviously been a tough afternoon. But rereading the pages this morning reminded me again of my call to be here now, and how sweet it has been the past year. So a break from the Africa narrative to share these thoughts...

a very busy friday, even more than most
a phone call and messages when i leave my post
my feet pound out my to-do list
that rambles through my head
what to do first, and next, now vs. then
frustrated, and now tired, my arms they carry on
my heart wishes for a helper
or just to hear, "well done."
around the sanctuary, office, down the hall
check in, move on, what's that? who called?
and now my heart is restless,
"they're asking way too much!
i simply cannot do it... i've had about enough."
then calling from the middle,
the central room to all
is a voice i seem to recognize--
calling, soft and small.
someone's playing musc, alone
but full of hope;
the rythm draws me closer
can't help but take a look.
empty room of worship, filled
with one guitar's sound,
here my heart can rest, here my purpose found.
i walk softly toward the back,
to get a bigger view;
a cross stands tall and mighty
somewhat lonely, too.
i remember why i'm here now,
and why i care so much,
because You had a purpose
with your unique touch.
i stand in awe of beauty, love and grace
and let your voice remind me...
"I called you to this place."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The background story: God's goodness

On a Friday afternoon almost a month ago I got the surprise and gift of a life time.

I was sitting on the living room floor of Doug & Sarah Granger's house, playing with their three oldest children-- Abe, Annabel, and Oak-- while Doug and Sarah were at the hospital in labor (or so we thought) with Granger #4.

Ellen, my roommate, kept texting me and asking me when I was going to be home because we needed to talk. Being the one who panics about conflict, I immediately called her and asked her if she was mad at me! She assured me everything was fine, and it could wait until I was done babysitting.

Apparently it couldn't because an hour later in walked Ellen, Clark, and Katie Pennock-- my great friend and the Assistant to Missions at Trinity (www.trinitycville.org). I thought something must be terribly wrong for all three of them to come over. Ellen, again, quickly assured me everything was ok, in fact everything was great.... "Your friends want to send you to Africa," she said.

I stopped.

Heart, breathing, thinking, motor control, the ability to communicate-- it all stopped.

"WHAT!??" I squeeked out.

Then the story unfolded... how there was a spot on a team going to visit the World Harvest Mission (www.whm.org) team in Bundibugyo, Uganda... how these three saw fit for me to be the one to fill that spot... how the church gave me the time off from work... how I miraculously had NO plans for the 9 days the trip was planned.

I know Psalm 37:4, Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

But to experience the Lord fulfilling in me a desire I did not even know I had! I can't explain the shock::joy::tears::gratitude that overflowed.

In that moment so much was fulfilled, and yet only begun. In the next 24 hours all of my support for the trip was raised by the generous and wonderful family and friends surrounding me, confirming this was indeed God's plan for my February. Plane tickets, luggage, and long skirts followed suit (in Uganda women wear skirts below the knee almost everywhere).

The beginning of the story... much like the beginning of THE story, begins with God's goodness.

The resurrection of the blog...

Well it's been months since I've posted on this blog... I've often found myself thinking about it but lacking the purpose behind posting beyond just talking about my life. But with my recent trip to Uganda, I've found that purpose as we promised to tell the stories of the lives we encountered there.

I've found it hard to answer the question, "How was your trip?" in a soundbyte. I knew this would be so, having experienced returning from a short term mission before, but its even more profoundly difficult this time around. So I think posting about the trip on this blog will be the most coherent way to tell the story of Bundibugyo, Uganda. So supporters, friends, family... get ready!