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 ( 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 ( 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!