Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Almost Home

I know that I haven't written much of late. I have been super busy finishing up with work and saying final goodbyes. I have really enjoyed the past couple weeks as I wrap up my time here. I have plenty of stories that I will share over the couple weeks once I get home before I officially close out the blog. But for right now, I have to get back to packing. I leave tomorrow and I still have much to do! Thanks for following along with the blog and for all your support. I can't believe how fast the time has gone. I am looking forward to getting home and catching up with you all.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Frontline Sports Day

Last weekend, I had one of my most memorable days yet. On Saturdays, I have been volunteering with Frontline Ministry, a ministry that serves street kids in Kampala. It is part of Calvary Chapel, the church I attend in the city. Normally, Saturday are pretty quiet. There are usually between 30 and 40 boys between ages approx. 8 and 14. We will watch movies, play cards, or color with them. Then we will have a short Bible study in Luganda and then serve them lunch.

The kids live on the street for a variety of reasons. Some have had their parents pass away leaving them no other choice. Others have run a away from abusive parents or other poor living conditions. In any case, they live in some tough circumstances. Some of them sleep in abandoned buildings or buildings under construction. Police hassle them and so they have a problem with authority figures. They tend to be rough around the edges and get into fights easily. I have heard (though never seen) that some of them carry weapons. Some of them do drugs as well. A couple weeks ago, a couple of boys asked me if I had any cocaine. They said that they needed it to sleep because they were staying in dangerous areas of town.

Despite their rough circumstances, they have great hearts. There are not many that are their every week which makes it hard to form relationships with them (especially since many do not speak English). Every week, however, I meet new kids that just want to be loved. It won't take long for one of the younger ones to find their way into my lap or hanging on my arm. They accumulate lots of dirt by living on the streets, wearing the same clothes every day, so I always leave covered in dirt.

This past Saturday was a special event. We had a day long sports day that included lots of football as well as basketball, floor hockey, ultimate frisbee, and volleyball. They were all really good at football and were pretty terrible at all the others. It was fun either way. After lots of advertising, more than 200 kids showed up. It was awesome to have such a great turnout. We split them up into teams of about 12 and just played with them all day long.

My team was the Green Zebras and we had a great group of boys. They were all really well behaved and you could tell they were having a blast. There isn't much else to say so here are a few photos from the day. At the end of the day, I realized that I didn't actually take any photos of them actually playing. Oh well...


This is Matthias, one of the more regular boys. He is always smiling...it's probably because he is always up to something.

All the boys in line getting checked for drugs and weapons before they get on the buses.

Explaining to the police why there are hundreds of street kids gathered in the middle of the city.

This is my team. Go Green Zebras!

We had acrobats and dancers for entertainment at midday. They were pretty sweet.

Here is one of the stunts they did.

Preparing all of the food...

Lots and lots of beans, rice and cassava.

All of the boys sitting down at the end of the day, learning about forgiveness.

This is Wilson. He won most improved from last year to this year. Not improved athletically, but in terms of character.

This is Moses. He is also one of the regulars. He is one of the boys that is always hanging on me. (He stole my name tag.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's Next?

Sorry I haven't written very much on the blog lately. Here is an extra long post with no pictures to quench your thirst. It's mostly rambling of how I am feeling right now (I must be in a weird mood today because this post is all over the place), but I think there is some good stuff anyway.

I have been super busy with work, and honestly, there hasn't been too much exciting going on around here. I haven't really done any traveling lately, and day to day life here isn't as interesting as you might think (though I do love it). We just finished up the Eagle's Wings project last week and we are quickly approaching our deadline for Watoto.

It's crazy to think that I will be leaving in less than four weeks. I feel like there is still so much to do. Apart from finishing up what seems like a lot of work in the office, I have a long checklist of things to take care of.

1. I have to see all my wonderful friends one last time.

2. I have buy all the trinkets and things I want to take home with to help me remember this place.

3. I have to go to the places where I haven't been but have always wanted to go.

4. I have to go to the places where I always go because I don't want to leave without being there one more time.

5. I have to pack. (I don't want to even start thinking about that. You accumulate a lot of stuff in ten months and it's tough to fit it all in just a couple of suitcases.)

Needless to say, I am trying to cherish the last moments I have here. Over the past ten months, this place really has been home. While I know some people are counting down the days til I come home (you know who you are), I am trying not to count them as I am going to be very sad when I leave this place.

But with the days, in fact, dwindling away, I have begun to think about the future recently. This begs the question, "What's next?" I have been reading through Proverbs recently and this passage really helped me think through my answer.

1The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
2All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.
3Commit your work to the Lord,
    and your plans will be established.
4The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
5Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
    be assured, he will not go unpunished.
6By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
    and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
7When a man’s ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
8Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice.
9The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

-Proverbs 16:1-9

The simple to answer to the question above is "I don't know." There are a few things I do know:

1. I will be unemployed for an unspecified period of time. (This post is turning out to have a lot of lists.)

2. I am going back home to live with my parents. (You can't exactly to afford to live on your own with no source of income after spending a year in Africa traveling and not making any money. (Despite what you may have thought after my comment about missing Africa, I am really excited about going home and spending some quality time with my family and friends (I just put parentheses inside of parentheses. Is that allowed? I hope so because this comment just did it again.)))

3. I am really excited about getting involved with the church I briefly started going to last summer. (Do I use parentheses too often?... I think I use them too often. I don't know, you decide.)

After that, I don't know much. But that's kind of the rough outline until something different comes along. Proverbs 16:3 was the verse that really stuck out to me. I really don't know what is ahead but I know that if I commit my work to God, everything will work itself out. Maybe it means getting married soon or not for a long time or maybe not at all. Maybe it means I will find a good engineering job and settle down in Chicago (or somewhere else) or maybe I will find myself back in Africa someday working with the poor. I can't really tell what the future holds, but I find comfort in the fact that God does. Just before Jesus' ascension, he said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." (Acts 1:7). I know that life isn't easy and that even if I plan every second of every day, things can change. I can plan for tomorrow, but it is the Lord that establishes my steps. So all I can do is seek after him and let him take care of the rest.

[Side note: I am most grateful for verse 6 above. God took care of my sin/iniquity with his "steadfast love and faithfulness" so that this relationship where God watches over me is even possible. That is a whole other post, but praise Jesus for what he did to reconcile us back to God!]

Well, I guess that is enough rambling for now. If you are still reading at this point, congratulations, you are part of a select group of people.

More pictures to come soon. I promise. I had a fun day with 200 street kids yesterday which you hear about shortly.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

You know you have lived in Africa when...

There are just some things about living in Africa that are completely different than what you would experience back in the US. Sometimes words just can't describe some of the funny things that I have seen or experienced. There are some luxuries that I never thought I would miss before coming here (or even thought were luxuries at all for that matter.) Here are a few of the highlights.

(I wrote a similar post back in November that can be seen here.)

You know you have lived in Africa when...

- checking for ants on your toothbrush before brushing your teeth becomes second nature.

- you walk into the ATM booth not for money, but simply to enjoy the air conditioning inside.

- you get excited when your office buys perforated toilet paper. (It's the little things that make you smile.)

- you look forward to the full moon not for its beauty, but for it's light because it makes it easier to see as you walk home at night in the dark.

- you don't even need your flashlight to walk home even if the moon is gone because you have memorized the locations of all the potholes.

- friends asking for money as an inherent obligation of friendship is no longer offensive.

- you look forward to going to the slightly more expensive restaurant that puts cheese in their dishes all week.

- you wear a pair of pants two or three more times than usual in order to avoid washing them by hand.

- driving within 6 inches of a car while riding on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) is quite as nerve-wracking as it should be.

I should stop and clarify. Despite all of the smells, inconveniences, and other random annoyances here, I really love it here. The people are all so nice and I have made some wonderful friends. I am going to be very sad when I have to leave this place in June.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kironde Jovan

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting Kironde Jovan, the child that my parents sponsor through Compassion International. We always knew that he was from Uganda, but we found out while I was home at Christmas that he actually lived in the Kampala area. So we set up a time with Compassion so that I could meet him and his family. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to meet him and see how my parents support really helps him and his family.

[Side note: The ki- in southern Uganda is actually pronounced with a ch- sound so his first name is pronounced chee-rone-day. He goes by his second name, Jovan, though.]

He is the third born child in his family. He has two older brothers Kenneth and Charles. Jovan was born in 2001 and just turned ten earlier this year. His father died in 2003 so it is now just his mother and two brothers in the family. Jovan says he doesn't remember anything of his father; he was too young when he died. Jovan is now in primary 5 (5th grade), and I got to see all of his report cards over the years. I even got to see all of his doctors notes and all of the drafts of the letters he has written to my parents over the years. He is a very smart and healthy boy. His favorite subjects in school are English and science. He was to be a pilot when he grows up. He was a very quiet boy. I am sure he was rather intimated having me there but he didn't have much to say and spoke very quietly.

His mother grows and roasts maize for a living. Unfortunately, she is just coming away from a dry season that was very tough on the family. Additionally, with oil prices going up, the prices of everything seem to be skyrocketing. As a result, they have had very little food lately. One of the gifts I brought for the family was several kilos of rice, beans, flour, and sugar. They were very grateful for the gifts. It was one of those things that really makes you put things in perspective about whats really important in life. I also gave Jovan a soccer ball and cross necklace that my parents sent over with me, both of which he was very excited about.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Meeting Jovan for the first time outside his Compassion project.

Getting to see all his papers and report cards.

Giving him his soccer ball and necklace. He didn't say much, but you could tell he was really excited.

Meeting the whole family and giving them some food.

Even though they didn't have much, they still gave me a soda and bogoyas (sweet bananas). It is common in the culture to serve a meal to any guests that you have.

A picture of the whole family. Their house had two small rooms. We are in the sitting room. In the photo, you can see about half of the room. Then they had one bedroom, approximately the same size as the sitting room. I could basically see all of their possessions as soon as I walked in.

Standing outside with the family, getting a full shot of the house.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Child Soldier No More

"We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God."

-Romans 6:9-10

Happy Easter everyone! It is an encouraging thought to know that Jesus lives! I am so happy to know that God, in his infinite mercy, made a way for us to be reconciled back to him. This weekend has been an awesome reminder of the grace and forgiveness we have in Jesus.

Speaking of forgiveness, a few weeks ago I had the privilege of seeing Watoto's Restore Tour here in Kampala. They have been touring all over the world raising awareness of the war that has ravaged northern Uganda over the past several decades. One of the more moving points of the program was near the end as several children and teenagers got up to talk about the forgiveness and healing they have experienced since the end of the war. After all the terrible things that have happened to these people, it is amazing that they are able to forgive they way they have. I audio recorded it and uploaded it for you to listen.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you."

-1 Peter 1:3-4

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sipi Falls

Two weekends ago all the interns took a break and took a quick trip to Sipi Falls. After a five hour ride squished into a 16 passenger taxi that is about the size of a conversion van, we arrived at what I can only describe as a little slice of heaven. Sipi Falls is a series of three waterfalls at the base in of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda. Mount Elgon is a dormant volcano straddling the border of Uganda and Kenya. The three falls range in heights from 30 meters to 100 meters.

We stayed at a wonderfully relaxing resort that was at about 1800 meters of elevation so it was remarkably cool. It was a nice break from the (relative) heat of Kampala. We felt really spoiled to have stayed at such a nice place. We thought it was funny that we were getting giddy over luxuries as simple as no mosquito nets (it was too cold at night for mosquitoes), temperature control on our showers (in my apartment, the options are freezing cold or scalding hot), and chocolate cake for (Ugandans aren't too big on sweets).

Here are some photos of the highlights.

On the first day, we found this tree root hanging near the base of the falls closest to our camp that we used as a swing.

This was our little hut tucked away in some trees. It sat next to a small stream that came from the fall just a few dozen meters away.

The second day we went on a hike to the lower falls in the morning and the upper falls in the afternoon. This is what we saw at the start of out hike. It would only get better from here.

We came around the corner and could start to see the falls. It was still a long way to the bottom.

This is one of the rickety wooden ladders we had to climb down in order to reach the base of the falls.

Almost there...

We made it to the base of the falls. Here is a group shot with our guide, Jasper.

A shot looking up to the top.

On our way back, we found a neat place to go for a swim. Tim and Kevin are jumping in with a slew of locals gathered to watch.

Stopping for a break looking out over the horizon before heading back home.

That night after dinner, we found this really cool place to watch the sun set over central Uganda. These last few are from our photo shoot.