Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Uganda Trip - Day 4

Today's notes from my girls...

Friday, Dec. 3 -

I can't believe it's already Friday! The time is flying by so far, although I am REALLY missing Steve & the girls. I thought of them this morning when they were at our Co-Op's Christmas party. It was the first party I had to miss, which made me sad, but I know they had a great time with their Nanny. Their sweet letters to me everyday are so encouraging - something I look forward to every morning!

Today was a very emotional day for us all. We left about 8:30 this morning and got home about 7:30 this evening. We drove and walked all over Lira looking for the orphans in the villages they are currently living in.

First we met Innocent - a sweet little hard working boy who loved to play soccer...

Children in the villages typically have to work very hard helping out around their houses/huts, walking for miles to fetch water, cooking, taking care of siblings, etc. They also have no toys to play with so they make up their own games with old tires, used water bottles or broken storage containers. Their ideas were very clever. My cousin, Scott, owns Fair Trade Sports - a company that makes great quality sports equipment in third world countries and they donate a large portion of their profits to charity. He donated 5 soccer balls for me to give to the kids in the villages to play with. I gave the first ball to Innocent and the kids in his village. It was so awesome to see them smile when they received their ball and to watch them run around and play soccer. It wasn't food or clothes but it brought them laughter and joy which I think is just as important.

We enjoyed visiting with the people that lived in Innocent's village. Derk and Helmut even had a little fun trying out one of the villager's bicycles. Everyone cracked up laughing and said, "Look at the Muzungu!" (Muzungu is Ugandan for white man from the West.)

The next village was on the other side of Lira. This is video I shot as we were driving through the main part of Lira...

The next orphan is featured below in the blue shorts. His name is Kizito and he is the 5th born to a family of six. The people he lives with brews their own form of beer which we could totally smell as soon as we opened our van door. The stinch was awful! You can see the thick gooey substance in the yellow tubs in some of the pictures below. When the kids can't find anything to eat, they will go drink a cup of that stuff. You'll also see a small "pond" of what looks to be water; however, it is the runoff from the beer and you will often times see the kids playing in it. Everyone was so sweet at this village - I hated to see them living that way when they could spend their time planting crops or taking care of cattle. Before we left, our little orphan boy went and put on his best blue shirt to show he was glad to be leaving soon to go live at Calo Me Lare.

We also gave the kids at this village a soccer ball donated by Fair Trade Sports. They loved it as soccer is HUGE in Uganda. All the kids loved soccer and it's a sport they could all participate in. The pictures of these kids just break my heart. They could have so much potential if just given the chance.

The last village we went to was actually an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp and the same location where Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked and killed over 300 innocent people on February 21, 2004. The attack is now known as the Barlonyo Massacre.

When we first arrived at the camp, we saw a little boy that had several wounds on his legs. He said he had fallen off his bike but his wounds looked awful and were totally infected. They were even being swarmed and eaten on by flies. Kelley remembered I had a first aid kit in my backpack so she treated his wounds with ointment and bandaids. If only these people had the simplest things like first aid kits, their injuries could be treated sooner and not get infected.

One survivor of the Barlonyo Attack, Dickens, was a seven month old baby boy who was thrown across his hut. One of the LRA rebels did this in an attempt to bang his head and kill the boy. Amazingly, he survived but you can still see the scar on his head today. Both of his parents were killed in the massacre and he is one of the orphans that will be living at Calo Me Lare. We are believing God has big plans for this boy to have survived that horrific day and still be alive today.

Another survivor was a man named Moses Ogwang. He now oversees the IDP Camp and tries to help those in need. He narrowly escaped being killed himself by hiding behind some boxes of produce. He has an amazing testimony and it's awesome that he has done so much good from such an evil act of terror. (You can read more about Moses and the Barlonyo attack here.)




Brother of Alex...

The next little orphan we met was a boy named Dickens. Both of his parents were killed in the Barlonyo Attack when his family's hut was burned to the ground. Dickens was an infant at the time and was being carried on his brother's back. When the fires started, the elderly people told all the children to run away. Fortunately, Dicken's life was spared. He is very close to his brother and we originally were only planning on accepting Dickens into Calo Me Lare because our age requirements are between 4 and 6. However, Dicken's brother started to cry when he learned his brother would be leaving him. That broke our hearts and we knew we couldn't separate them. So we picked up an extra orphan today :-)

It was a good day today - can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Uganda Trip - Day 3

Thursday, Dec. 2 -

Today's notes from my girls...

Psalm 139

1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Today's word of the day was "Wow!". The poverty of those who live in the villages of Lira - wow. The overwhelming kindness and generosity of those who live here - wow. The openness of their hearts and their ability to give and receive love - wow. The resourcefulness of these people and their willingness to make the most of what they have - wow.

We began our day with a drive out to the orphanage. Project Hope Worldwide began building "Calo Me Lare" or "Village of Redemption" about six months ago. I can't even express in words what a great feeling it was to actually see it come to fruition.

I am pictured here with Sophie, one of Calo Me Lare's
house mothers. The children in the picture are local
villagers that came to see what we were doing.
The village will be built in phases and will eventually include 16 homes housing 8 children and 1 widowed mother in each house. It will also have a church, medical clinic, school, agriculture center, soccer fields and gardens. If everything goes as planned, Calo Me Lare should be open in January or February of 2011 and will welcome it's first 16 orphans and 3 house mothers. The homes will actually be divided into rooms and will have electricity and a kitchen with a stove, something practically unheard of in the villages in Lira.

Calo Me Lare is located about 3 1/2 miles outside of the main hustle and bustle of Lira and spans a little over 15 acres. It was such an amazing site to see the progress made so far and to actually see work being done. Workers were mixing cement, making bricks, building walls, and putting up a security fence. The village itself is not only a wonderful thing for the orphans, but it has created jobs for many of the local villagers to help them provide a better life for their families.

The first 16 orphans that will be moving into Calo Me Lare have already been hand-picked by Dennis, our Ugandan friend and a paid staff employee for PHWW. He has done an amazing job riding his motor bike and walking all over to villages within Lira to find the most needy orphans. Sadly, it's easy to find orphans within the area. There are so many due to parents dying of HIV/AIDS - but it was Dennis's job to find the most needy ones that could benefit from living at Calo Me Lare. These orphans are currently still living in their villages until the orphanage is completed. They typically are being raised by older siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles. 

Our main focus for this trip is to actually go find these children, get their stories, take their pictures, and get video of their everyday lives so that when we get back to the states, we can spread the word that these children are available to be sponsored. For $120 a month, a child can be sponsored and the money will cover all their living, schooling and medical expenses. It will also help pay the salaries of the house mothers and will go towards continued building of Calo Me Lare. The $120 can also be split between 3 individuals, families, or businesses - making the donation come to $40 p/month. Orphan profiles will soon be made available on the Project Hope Worldwide website here.

As if being an orphan wasn't sad enough, they have a strong cultural stigma, are often looked down upon, and are made fun of by the other villagers. At a time when they need the most love, they are shunned and neglected. Calo Me Lare will provide these children with the love and support they need to develop important life skills that will help them succeed and become whomever they want to be. These children will now be given endless opportunities and, most importantly, will know that they do have value and worth.

So today was our first day to go to the villages and find the children. It's so amazing to me that these people live out in the middle of nowhere, yet they are very self-sufficient. That's not to say they have "great" lives, but they make the most of what they do have which is very, very little.

It was really hard to see the kids today in their poverty-stricken environment. Most all of them were barefoot, their feet calloused over. Their clothes were filthy dirty and torn to rags. Their eyes were jaundiced yellow and their little bellies puffed out from malnutrition. I just wanted to buy them all new clothes and shoes, give them baths in clean water, tend to their wounds, and stuff them with food until they couldn't eat any more!

One fun thing I got to do when I met the orphans was to give them a beaded bracelet that my girls made for them. It was neat to bring a part of them with me and give to the kids. The orphans smiled when we put the bracelets on their wrists - hopefully they knew that the bracelets were made with a lot of love :-)

Here's some of the orphans we met today. 




Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uganda Trip - Day 2

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 -

It's December 1st and I woke up this morning in Uganda! I can't believe it! Today was filled with lots of surprises - some good, some scary. Even though I didn't go to bed until 1 this morning, I was awakened at about 6:15 by the sounds of roosters crowing and what sounded like thousands of birds chirping. It was a beautiful, amazing way to wake up. I could say that because I actually felt rested - otherwise, I'd probably be a little ticked off ;-)

I wanted to hurry and get ready so I could see what the outside of our hotel looked like. I couldn't see the night before because it was dark. So I rushed to take a shower - it felt so good, even if it was a trickle of luke-warm water, because it was my first shower in 3 days! Then as I was getting ready, I could hear the sounds of what sounded like hundreds of children laughing and singing. That made me hurry even faster because I wanted to see who they were and what they were doing. When I finally opened my door to the outside, I couldn't believe what I saw. It looked like the Garden of Eden - beautiful flowers draped from rooflines and along flower beds, exotic birds were singing high in the trees, everything was landscaped so pretty! A few of the groundskeepers were working so I went and talked to them. One showed me around the grounds - pointing out various trees, birds, nests, turtles, etc. He showed me how to make this clicking noise with my tongue and 3 huge birds ran up to me. I think they were guineas. I was a little freaked out but it was kinda cool, too ;-)

So there are now five of us on our trip from the States -

* Derk Madden - Pastor of Discovery Bible Fellowship and President of Project Hope Worldwide

* Kelley Compton - Worship Leader at Discovery Bible Fellowship and a founder of Project Hope Worldwide

* Jimmy Russell - a businessman from Owasso and friend of Derk's

* Helmut Schleppi - a producer from LA who makes documentaries for the Discovery Channel, World Vision and other NGO's (Non-government organizations). He has also produced several movies. You can find out more about Helmut here.

* And of course, myself. Plain 'ole mom. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

After a delicious breakfast at our hotel of omelets, bacon and toast, we packed up our things to get ready to drive from Entebbe to Lira. More surprises were found while going through my luggage. I found a large manilla envelope that was filled with letters for me from Steve and the girls - one letter for each day of my trip. They were so super sweet and thoughtful - it really cheered me up because I miss them terribly!

Next surprise - not so great. The drive to Lira. I was warned the driving would be scary and crazy but nothing could have prepared me for the ride ahead of me. I think it's totally amazing that many fully functioning cities in Africa do not have a structured driving system set up. First of all, they drive on the left side of the road so that took a little bit of getting used to. Next, it's pretty much a free for all when it comes to driving the streets. The roads are generally 2-way and narrow; however, walkers, bike riders and motorcyclists have to fit on the shoulders, too. There are usually no paint lines giving lane boundaries and I didn't see any speed limits posted - everyone just drives as fast as they can to get where they are going. And they are constantly passing each other with on-coming traffic heading straight towards them. It's crazy! Kelley and I spent most of our time in the car ducking and praying - did a WHOLE lot of praying that day!

It should have been about a 6 hour drive from our hotel to Lira, but our driver made it in about 4. C-R-A-Z-Y!!! We seriously had about 5 close calls - I just knew I was going to be meeting Jesus soon. Oh well - it's just part of the "experience", I suppose. We did make a couple of stops along the way at a few produce markets. We bought bananas, papayas, corn and mangos. Even though the drive was much more intense than any amusement park ride I've ever been on, I did get to see what life what like in Uganda. There were people and markets the entire way from Entebbe to Lira. The markets and homes were make-shift buildings made of whatever scrap materials could be found. They were so poor, yet seemed happy because they had the company of their friends and family with them all day every day. No time schedules. No business meetings. No e-mail or facebook. I found myself feeling almost envious of their lifestyle, yet so thankful to God for the many blessings I had back home. Sure puts things into perspective.

One of the biggest reservations I had about going to Uganda was my safety in our hotel. A few weeks ago, I had a nightmare that some men broke into my room so I kept replaying that scene over and over again in my head - totally freaking myself out and making me very leery about even going. I know that was my crazy imagination, though, so for the last week or so I've been praying against it and have felt much more at ease. Needless to say, I was still very curious to see what our hotel would be like - fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. We just checked into our hotel in Lira - it's called the Gracious Palace Hotel. We each have our own rooms and so far I feel pretty safe. I'm on the 2nd floor and I have a small balcony off the back of my room. I also have 2 twin beds, an armoire, table and chair. The beds have mosquito nets but fortunately, I haven't seen any mosquitoes just yet. We were told they have air conditioning but their idea of air conditioning here is a very noisy ceiling fan - which is why I am writing this journal entry at 4 in the morning. Hot + Noisy = No Sleep For Me Tonight.

After checking into our hotel, we walked the streets of Lira for a little while then ate dinner at a hotel called Lillian Towers that served spicy Indian food. And what did I have to eat? Pizza. Yes, pizza. Our waitress was so super sweet. I kept watching her watch us throughout our dinner. She was smiling but I didn't know what she was thinking. I spoke to her some but her accent was thick and she was very soft spoken. She saw me taking pictures and asked if I would take one of the two of us. She then told me she wanted to be friends and even verbally gave me her phone number. Of course I forgot it right away but I thought it was a nice gesture.

I wish I could be experiencing this all with Steve so badly. I miss him and the girls so much. My cell phone lost service as soon as we left the states, so I haven't been able to speak to them since Monday. I am hopeful that Thursday I'll get to skype or call. We'll also get to meet some of the orphans that will be living at Calo Me Lare later today. It will be interesting to see what God has in store for us. We survived the drive here so surely God has a big purpose and calling for us. We are His willing servants and are excited to see what He will do today. Maybe I can squeeze in a cat nap before I have to get up in an hour :-) Will write more soon!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Uganda Trip - Day 1

Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 -

Today was another long day of traveling. After having a nine hour delay in Detroit, we then flew to Amsterdam where we had a four hour delay. I had plans of taking a shower there but I was so exhausted, I opted to sleep instead on their lounging chairs. We were all so tired - especially Derk and me. We hadn't slept a peep yet, so those few hours felt great. In fact, we slept so good, we almost didn't make it to our next flight! By the time we got to the gate to head to Uganda, the line was so long and the plane was supposed to take off in just minutes. I thought we missed our flight for sure. As I have come to find out, there is such a thing as "Uganda time" which is MUCH slower than the hectic lives we live in the States. For some reason, the airlines was running about 45 minutes behind schedule, which worked in our favor, so we actually made it just in time.

We finally made it to Uganda Monday night around 8:30 p.m. ALL of our luggage was waiting for us - PTL - and so were our hired drivers, Patrick and Mustafa. They drove us to a market to get some bottled water, then on to our hotel. The name of our hotel was the Entebbe Airport Guesthouse and it was beautiful - from what I could tell at night. It was clean and we each had our own room. It had a bed and that's all I needed because I was exhausted. Tomorrow, we'll make the 6 hour drive to Lira where we'll be staying the rest of our trip. Will write more later! Must get some rest now! :-)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Uganda Trip - My Journal Entries

Found these notes in my carry-on bag ;-)

From Abby...

From Mackenzie...

Monday, November 29, 2010 (Written on the plane headed to Amsterdam) -

Wow! I can't actually believe I'm going to Uganda! I always thought it would be "neat" to go, but I never thought I'd actually find myself on a plane heading to Africa! I know this is going to be an amazing, life-changing experience for me but the road to get here has been so hard and long, yet short.

Just two months ago, I was at dinner with friends when I received a text from my pastor that read, "How would you like to go to Uganda on our next trip in November?" I just about freaked out! Like I said, I always "thought" it would be neat to go but never really thought I actually would go.

The time is finally here and I don't really feel mentally or spiritually prepared. To be honest, I've spent so much time thinking about the "what ifs" and the thought of missing my family, that I haven't spent the time that I should have praying and preparing spiritually for the trip.

This has ended up being one of the hardest decisions I've ever committed to in my life. In a way, I feel like God is testing me to see who I put first - Him or my family. I knew I had to be obedient to God's calling but it wasn't an easy decision. I love God with all my heart but my family is my life. I love them so much it hurts. It hurts to be away from them. It hurts to not be there to meet their needs. It hurts to miss out on their every day lives. But God's calling is greater. I must follow Him even when it hurts. His ways are always best. This experience has forced me to rely on God because I am weak on my own. I can do nothing without His strength.

I just checked the airline's map and we are over the Atlantic Ocean! Such a surreal feeling! Even though we are experiencing turbulence, the guy next to me has major "gas issues", the person in front of me has his seat back squishing me and the guy behind me is snoring, I'm right where God wants me - right where I should be. Totally vulnerable - relying totally on God. I have nowhere else to go. Just me, God, my iPod, and my journal. And oh yes, the guy next to me who needs to down a bottle of
Tums ;-)

I'm in my happy place, looking at a card Abby made for me. It's a picture of us holding hands and it reads, "I love you so so much. You are one of a 'cind'." Oh, I pray the girls are doing okay. I miss them so much already. They have been so sweet supporting me in my decision to go to Uganda. They've spent countless hours crocheting and making craft items to sell and help me raise money for my trip. They are so precious and have such big hearts for being such little girls.

And Steve - he's been my rock and supporter this entire time. He's prayed for me, made numerous trips to the store buying things for my trip, helped me pack, made schedules for the girls, put up with me when I've been a weepy sap, etc. He's been amazing. I could never thank him enough for all he's done for me. I'm so underserving of this love from anybody but I am also so grateful for it. God has blessed me for reasons I don't know. I let Him down so many times, yet He still shows me love.

Thank you, Jesus, for your kindness and grace. Please help me grow in that area towards others. Please be with my family while I'm gone. Let them know I love them unconditionally. Please watch over them and protect them from all harm. I pray this experience makes us a closer knit family and that it draws us closer to You. Thank you for all your many blessings and for this experience of a lifetime. I pray that I bring You glory and help you accomplish Your will. In Jesus' name.

I keep listening to this song over and over on my iPod. I thought it was an appropriate "theme" for this trip...

"Imagine This"
By Beckah Shae

Imagine this,
Joy and laughter and no more pain
Where love insists to be known
Imagine all the people
Caring for each other
Instead of all the fussing and arguing
I'm a dreamer a believer
There's hope within our reach
I'm gonna take a stand and agree
The healing begins with me

There's a better way, we don't have to die anymore
Open up your eyes and see the need
We can make a difference with our own lives
If we let love arise from the inside
Heed the call and be all we were made to be

Imagine this,
Safety and shelter from the storm
A place for all to call home
Imagine all the people
Learning that which matters most
Can't be bought or earned or taken.
Imagine if we were all rich
Imagine if we all knew peace
Imagine if we all gave love
The way that God gave love
We'd have so much more than enough