Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in Uganda





























It is a few days after Christmas and I finally have some time to reflect. 

Christmas here is much different than America. The town is not decorated, no houses have Christmas lights, there is no holiday music at church, it is not cold...it is different. They really don't have any Christmas traditions in Uganda. Besides going to a Christmas Day service it is a pretty low key day. Dan and Loring decided to do a Christmas Eve outreach and we fed their neighbor hood! Loring and I hand mixed, rolled, and fried over 100 chapatis! It was wonderful to see their appreciation and shock at getting a free meal! Over 100 people were fed and many of the men and women at the church we go to helped cook the entire meal. It took an army but it was so much fun! 

As much as I miss the traditions and comfort of home this holiday season it was nice to get away from all of the materialism of America. Most children in Uganda get nothing for Christmas. It is just another day for them. If they are lucky they might get a soda or a new Christmas dress. While there is nothing wrong with getting a receiving gifts it was refreshing to be able to completely focus on the true meaning of Christmas. My Christmas consisted of leading a children's Christmas play, eating a huge Christmas meal, and watching movies with lots of good friends.

I did not receive a single present this year...and it was ok. On Christmas eve and Christmas day I got to rejoice in the fact that Christ, as part of the triune God, humbled Himself from His holy dwelling, to subject himself to the trials and tribulations of this world. He came for us. No other reason. He came to save us from a life of separation with God. The only purely holy person who ever lived was born in a stable and laid to rest where pigs ate their food. He was forced to be born there because no one had any room for Mary and Joseph. But He came into the pig sty and made it a holy dwelling place. His only visitors were lowly shepherds. No kings, no high officials, just shepherds and animals were there to welcome the savior into the world. On Christmas eve Pastor Dan asked us if we had any room for Jesus. In our own pig styes of life do we have any room for Christ to come in and make it a holy dwelling place? 

This Christmas I pray that during all of the parties and all of the hustle and bustle and traveling you took some time to remember Christ and why He came to earth. I pray that you rejoiced in the fact that the Lord of everything would send His Son to atone for our sins. We do not celebrate Christmas to get a few days off work, or because Santa is coming, but we celebrate because He came to earth. 

So come, let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;11for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.12"This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.""

Luke 2:10-12 NASB

Thursday, December 17, 2009

does it mean anything?

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately. [I know...sort of the theme of my trip] I have been thinking about all of the outreaches I have done with all of the beautiful, smiling children.......and....

Have I made an impact? Did they learn anything? Did I learn anything? What does effective missions in Uganda look like?

So many questions...

I am currently reading a book by Donald Miller (shocker I know) that is all about life and whether we are actually participating in the story. Are we living a good story? This trip has put so much into perspective. I know that when I return to the states I will do a lot differently. I will spend my money differently, I will choose jobs differently, and I will love differently. What has been most apparent here is how important relationships are. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the outreaches with EAC at times I felt like genuine relationships with the children were lacking. Dan and Loring, who I am staying with, have become friends with a Ugandan family. I have experienced first hand what an impact their relationship with them has been. The genuine Christian community they have developed is changing both families.
When we think about it.....isn't all of life about relationships? Since the beginning God designed us for community. He saw that Adam was alone and knew that he needed a partner. God is who fulfills our longings and desires and makes us complete. But...He blesses us with other people in our lives to enrich us and to share our stories with us.
Sometimes, our stories turn bad. I know mine has in the past. But I know myself better now...I think I just forgot for a little while. I want to encourage you all to think about your stories. Can you make your story better? Even in the everyday things I think we can make our stories better. This trip was the first step towards my better story. When I go home my prayer is that I can continue my better story. I find comfort in the truth that the Lord will guide my steps.

I leave you with a quote from Donald Miller's book. I hope that this is what happens when I am finally close enough to see the lines on His face.

"I'll tell these things to God (my story), and He'll laugh, I think, and he'll remind me of the parts I forgot, the parts that were His favorites. We'll sit and remember my story together, and then he'll stand and put His arms around me and say, "well done," and that He liked my story. And my soul won't be thirsty anymore."

So here is to finding your better story.

love to all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a different perspective.

The house is quiet for the time being. Hannah and Ben are playing on the front porch, Loring is doing her bible study, and Lillian is humming and cleaning somewhere in the house. Outside the buzz of activity can be heard and I am glad that I have a place that is quiet to escape to. I can hear children laughing, horns honking, boda men yelling, and police whistles blowing.

The past week or so has been so filled with activity and meeting different people. Loring has been gracious enough to include me in everything that she has been doing. On a normal day we wake up, have devotions with Dan, Kostya (intern from Ukraine), and Loring, drink our coffee, and try to wake up! Dan and Kostya head out for the day to meet with pastors, work on a new medical clinic, disciple people, etc. I help Loring with home school for Aiden and Hannah. I mainly work with Hannah and we work on math, reading, and spelling. At some point during everyday I read Ben at least 4 books and do the same safari jungle puzzle. Typically he is asking me to do the puzzle as soon as I step out of my bedroom and have my toothbrush in my mouth :o) The afternoons always offer something different. We spend time with Betty, Loring's Ugandan friend whose husband is the pastor of the church that Dan preaches at, head downtown for errands, or go to the store for dinner, or sew curtains for a medical clinic. I have also been fortunate to meet some amazing muzungu women. Loring is involved in a women's bible study and a home school group. It has been so amazing to hear everyone's stories as to why they are in Uganda. One women's husband works for the US Embassy, a few work for a church here, and some are here with different mission organizations or have their own organizations. The common thread in all of these women is their heart for the Lord and their heart for their families. They are all doing their best to adapt and adjust to this culture and to give their children an amazing childhood. I went to a Christmas Cookie exchange last night and met a women who lives in a large home she calls Father's House. She and her husband currently have 16 children and their mission is to simply love children and fill their Father's house. I have met women from Australia, New Zeland, Tanzania, England, and the Netherlands.

Some of you may be thinking, "well this is much different from what I thought she was going to be doing". Honestly, it is different than I thought as well. But I have a peace that I am exactly where the Lord wants me. I am not doing set outreaches, but I am serving the Lord by serving this family. One of my good friends in Raleigh has been nannying for people at our church, Vintage 21, and she has been such a good example for me. Her heart for children and for the families in the body of Christ is contagious. When I am getting frustrated with the kids or I am being selfish and don't want to give of my time and energy I just think of what she would do in this situation ;o) I am still showing love to children and I am building lasting relationships with amazing people. I am so excited to see what the future holds between the Morris family and Vintage 21 church!

This week is a BUSY week! Loring and I are both having a hard time with it not feeling like Christmas. When you are wearing summer clothes and thinking about going swimming it is hard to get in the Christmas spirit. We have a tiny Christmas tree that the kids constantly change the decorations on, and we made Christmas cookies...maybe that will help. This week Loring and I are going to 2 bible studies, teaching Christmas songs to the choir at the church Dan preaches at, writing, planning, and practicing a children's Christmas play, going to a Ugandan wedding, and going Christmas shopping for a few very deserving Ugandan children. Whew! Well it is time for me to go color a princess dress with Hannah then off to bible study. I hope everyone is enjoying the cold weather and Christmas spirit for me! I will be in Raleigh one month from tomorrow!

Friday, December 4, 2009

a new step.

And then there was one...

I have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people during my time here in Uganda. They have each marked a different season and a new set of lessons. As I sit here sipping my spearmint team, hearing the storm roll in over the hills of Ntinda, and listening to a guitar being played outside...I miss them all.

Courtney, the sweet deep thinker who knew how to ask me amazing questions and encourage me with her love for life. There was Hannah, the funky, amazing singer who knew how to love children and make me laugh at her thousands of crazy faces. Catherine, the other southern girl who kept me sane and laughing for a month and showed me how quickly people can become friends. And then the Mocha boys, Daniel and Charlie. They were such an encouragement and such a blessing for the week and a half that we hung out with them. We all felt like we had known each other for years! Catherine, Daniel, and Charlie left yesterday and I am still here.

Since today is a quiet day at the house I have had time to think and reflect. With so many people coming and going I was worried about not really having a constant while I was here. The Lord has been showing me that this is how life happens. People come and go...but He remains my one constant. He promises to never leave us or forsake us and to be our strong tower through life's many trials. He has taught me to be thankful for the time do have with people and to trust that if it is in His will He will bring us together again. I am so excited to have lifelong, front porch friends all over the country. (front porch friends is a saying I heard, clearly in the south, referring to those friends that you can talk to for hours and just sit on the front porch with them). The Lord has been so good to me throughout this trip. He has provided me with community and taught me that His ways are always better than my ways.

Tomorrow marks the end of the Empower a Child outreaches for 2009. This week we have thrown two Christmas parties complete with food, presents, a Christmas play, and Christmas carols! The first party was at Katalwema Children's Hospital. The children were so excited to decorate cookies and receive gifts. Yesterday we had a huge party at the Remand Home, which is a juvenille prison. The kids did skits and songs, we had an eating contest, I got a bucket of water dumped on me, traditional Ugandan food, and a dance party! All in all it was a fun day and the kids had an AMAZING time which is all that matters.

Since the projects are ending the Lord has blessed me with a new opportunity for a few weeks. My church in Raleigh, Vintage 21, is beginning to partner with a family here in Uganda to help them start a chuch plant and a sponsorship program for the slum children that live near them. Dan and Loring Morris have become like my second family here. From the first time I met them I have felt so comfortable and so welcomed. They have 3 amazing children, Aiden [9], Hannah [6], and adorable Ben [4]. Their heart for this country and these people is contagious and I am so glad that the Lord brought us together. Tomorrow I am going to stay with them through the first of the year! I am moving from Ntinda to Wabigala (I love the names of places here). It will be so wonderful to spend the holidays with a family. They also have an intern coming from the Ukraine next week. So I will be in the girls room with six year old Hannah and theUkraine intern will be in the boys room with Ben and Aiden. I will be helping Loring homeschool the kids and helping their church get a medical clinic up and running. It will be quite the adventure and I cannot wait to move there! I pray that the Lord will use me to minister to this family and allow me to help Vintage better minister to them in the future.

Love and blessings to you all! 5 more weeks and I will be home in good ole' North Carolina. Comfy beds, cold weather, scarves, hats, gloves, fires, hot water, reliable electricity, electric stoves, no mosquitos, no mice, and fast food here I come!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

thankFULL.

This has been quite the exciting week, and I feel like I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday! First, I got to have 2, count that 2 Thanksgiving meals in Uganda! Both complete with a turkey that was bought at a market and killed within the premises. The first one was at the Empower a Child house and I was in charge of the turkey and stuffing. This was my first turkey and especially my first one that had been killed that morning! Oh Africa!! I actually turned out great! Not quite your classic butterball..but good none the less. While it was cooking you could smell the onions and the garlic cooking in the stuffing and the butter melting that was slathered all over the crust! For many of the Ugandans who came it was their first time ever tasting turkey. Can you imagine!! The second meal was at the Morris's house last night. They are the missionary family that my church in Raleigh, Vintage 21 is partnering with. It was a PERFECT night. The menu included Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin soup, pumpkin puree, mac and cheese with onions and bacon (made by the southern girls of course), rolls, matokee (made by the Ugandans of course!), apple cranberry gillet, pumpkin cake with brown butter icing, chocolate chip cookies, and coffee! Basically it was magic! There were 22 people there, some from the states, some from Uganda and about half were children under the age of 10. After dinner we all read bible verses that talked about thankfulness and discussed that every good thing we have or do is only from the Lord. His presence in our lives is enough to be thankful for. While I missed my family (who I got to video skype with!) I knew that there in that house with those people was exactly where I was supposed to be. ThankFULL.

things I am thankful for:
-Catherine's humor in ALL situations!
-Muzungu boys with American humor
-GREAT food this week
-God's grace
-families that always make you smile

This week the Lord blessed us with two unexpected muzungu guys. Daniel and Charlie. Daniel was in Uganda with Empower a Child this summer and he and Charlie are back in Africa with an organization called Mocha Club. If you want a great and easy way to help people in Africa this is for you! The organization asks you to give up 2 mochas a month and donate $7 a month to this organization instead! These guys are traveling to 7 African countries to document the different projects that Mocha Club supports. If you want to follow their journey and watch their amazing videos just click HERE! I also joined Mocha Club and if you want to join my team to support orphans and vulnerable children please go to the site!

Charlie and Daniel have definitely offered some comic relief for the events of this week. The most needed time was on Wednesday when we went Jungle trekking. Yep. Meredith Strickland trekked through an Ugandan jungle. Empower a Child purchased 34 acres of land in the Luwero district to build a training center, school, clinic, etc. It is a big dream with great possibilities. So, we drove to the new land to pray over it. We begin our adventure and there is definitely NO path! I was supposed to be praying but I was more worried about a snake, spider, wild jungle animal or child jumping out at me. We got to some huts about the time the rains started. When the rains subsided a bit we headed to a grove of trees that is thought to be possessed by demons and ruled by witch craft. [this is not a joke] As soon as we arrived at the grove the rains began again. And I mean RAIN. Torrential, African, down pouring rain. While some were casting the demons out of the forest the muzungus stood around a) in shock [i mean, this was my first forest demon casting out event] and b) laughing hysterically again because we were beyond wet. The entire time the guys were just cracking us up with their sarcastic jungle comments. We also had a 2 hour van ride back to the house soaking wet and freezing cold! Oh the adventures in Africa. There really aren't enough words to describe that day.

Next week we will be throwing Christmas parties at many of our outreaches! It will be so wonderful to watch theses children's faces light up as we present them with MUCH deserved gifts!

Highlight of my week. Carrying baby Vicky at Sanyu Babies Home on my back like a true Ugandan!!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Safari Pictures!







Hannah and I beside Murchinson Falls


Me and Pumba, just hanging out. No big deal...this is what everyone does!



Giraffe. Looking at you!
Big Elephant!



I want a hippopotamus for Christmas!











Mufasa..on the hunt for some breakfast!
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse at my 300 safari pictures! I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to go! If you want to see more + videos then you will just have to wait till I come home in January! Ok. Goodnight all. Movie night with the girls!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

safari & thoughts

Would someone please PINCH me! I just got back from a SAFARI! What!?!?! Is my life great or what! 4 of us piled into a van on Sunday and headed up country 5 hours to Murchinson Falls National Park. Our first day we hiked to the top of a HUGE waterfall! It was gorgeous and breathtaking and hot and it made you feel like you were the size of an ant! God knew what He was doing when He created waterfalls. After the waterfall we drove to our hotel, Red Chili! Oh and on our drive through the park we saw numerous baboons. They were so funny and the babies were all just hanging out on their mammas backs! The place we stayed was so nice and relaxing. We slept in a banda which is just a little tin roof house with beds and mosquito nets (of course). Red Chilli came complete with an amazing view, great food, fabulous people watching (we were the only other Americans there..it was pretty refreshing), and quite a few Pumbas wandering around.. you know the usual. What safari experience wouldn't be complete without a few Lion King characters right?!?!? That night there was a MAJOR rain storm about midnight. There are no words to describe the power and sound of an African rain...needless to say we didn't get much sleep at all! We were up and in our safari van at 6:30am! We drove for 5 minutes to the river, which is the NILE, and took a ferry across to start our safari! Our guides name was Tiban..kind of like Timon right! We all climbed on top of our van and sat on pillows so that we could get the best view. We drove through tons of trees for awhile and as soon as we hit the clearing...bam! GIRAFFES! Like 10 of them!! We got to see a giraffe gallop. It was the most awkward yet graceful thing I have ever beheld. The entire time we all felt like singing Lion King songs....we did some of the time! The game drive lasted about 4 hours and we saw soooo many amazing animals! The water buffalo's seem like a tough crowd to live with. They mainly travel in large herds but we would randomly see one or two hanging out by themselves. We asked our guide about that and as serious as can be he replied "oh, those are just the loser buffalo's". We were like "What! Loser buffalo's! how do you become a loser buffalo?". Basically if the males get old or lose a fight, they are kicked out of the herd and have to become loners for the rest of their lives. Though crowd huh! But God made sure they weren't completely alone. They always have birds on their backs to eat the ticks off of them! Circle of life for sure! We saw lots of birds, antelopes, bush bucks, elephants, red tailed monkeys, warthogs, and we were lucky enough to see 1 Male lion and 2 Leopards in a tree! We even went off roading to track the lion..he was hunting antelope! After the game drive we headed back to Red Chilli for lunch. I got a BACON CHEESEBURGER! Yum! In the afternoon we went on a 3 hour boat cruise of the Nile to the base of the waterfall! We saw TONS of hippopotamuses, baby hippos, crocodiles, beautiful birds, and we got really close to a HUGE male elephant! The entire time I had to keep reminding myself that I was in AFRICA, on a SAFARI, riding a boat down the NILE! Ahhh! I highly rec commend it!
During the trip I was reading a wonderfully challenging book by Shane Claiborne titled "The Irresistible Revolution". He challenges us a Christians to actually do what Christ called us to do. To live among the poor, to leave your family to seek Him, and to live a radical life of love and forgiveness. We are all hopeless ragamuffins who are searching and seeking for the One to love us and make us feel whole and pure again. The author lives in the ghetto of Philadelphia and his main goal is to love his neighbor and hope that they know how beautiful and worthy they are in the eyes of God. he challenges all of us to fully think through our careers and think of new and imaginative ways that we can use our gifts to further God's kingdom. He tells stories of massage therapist who make frequent trips into the city to seek out the homeless and give free massages, gourmet chefs who cook five star meals for the homeless, and ordinary people taking time to talk to, love and get to know the marginalized in their communities. I will be returning home in 2 months time....and honestly....I am scared because I have absolutely no clue what to do when I return. The possibilities are endless. I will be coming home a different me, and I hope a more complete me. One of my prayers upon coming to Uganda is that I would learn how to love more like Christ and that through my time Christ would heal me from a year of pain and heartache. That prayer is slowly being answered and I can feel Him changing me slowly. However, everyone who knows me at home only knows the old me. How will the new me fit into life in American again? I cannot go back and continue in old patterns and old ways. The Lord makes all things new and I pray that He will give me a clear and fulfilling path for when I return. I just want to do something where I feel like I am helping others and loving on children. Here are some things I have learned about myself upon being here that I never knew before.
- my smile can make a child smile :o)
-i am a visual learner and I have picked up sign language quickly
-I am not as shy as I thought I was
-I am not scared to ride on a motorcycle
-I need Christ on a daily basis
- I enjoy teaching
-I love helping to heal children's wounds
-Reading is good for the soul
I know the Lord will help make my path straight.

One of the stories in Claibourne's book talks about a time when he and a friend helped a prostitute that they found crying on the side of the road. They took her back to their house and gave her something to eat. All of a sudden she said to them "You all are Christians aren't you? [they had never said anything about being Christians to her] "I knew that you were Christians because you shine. I used to be in love with Jesus like that, and when I was, I shined like diamonds in the sky, like the stars. But its a cold dark world and I lost my shine a little while back. I lost my shine on those streets." I know that all of us have lost our shine at one point or another. I have lost my shine before. Some of you reading this may feel the same way. What a true statement she made. It is a cold dark world out there and things happen that cause us to lose our shine or even our faith. But the God I love is a God who restores, and polishes until He sees us shine like diamonds again. I want to love on people who feel like they have lost their shine. I challenge all of us to love people like that. Everyone is deserving of love. Christ died on the cross for all of us. CS Lewis says "if you find within yourself, a longing greater than this world can provide, then we know that we were made for more than this world can provide. We were made for eternity". I have 2 more months here. I want to learn how to love deeper, find the most needy, forgive fully, heal greatly, and return complete. I have a wonderful community waiting for me at home and I know that they will help me transition back into American life.

I am thankful that I serve a God that can use ragamuffins like me and turn us into ordinary radicals.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Babies!!

All of the children I have met have completely stolen my heart. The school children singing their silly songs and greeting me with "Good morning teacher Meredith!". The deaf children clinging to my hand and trying desperately to communicate with me...although some only know how to sign their names. The ones at Katalemwa Children's Hospital who just grin and grin despite the fact that they have huge pins shoved into their legs. The boys and girls at the juvenile prison who are trying to find their identity and dream big dreams despite their current circumstances.
And then there are the babies...the sweet, Innocent, smiling, crying, laughing, abandoned, lonely, forgotten, babies. They are the ones who have stolen my heart. Myself and most everyone I know was fortunate enough to grow up with both or one of our parents. We were completely taken care of and our needs were provided for. We had a last name. These babies just have a first name. Lately their names have been drifting through my thoughts and echoing in my ears. Elijah, Lina, Maria, Michael, Jacob, Jonathan, Jethro, Emma, Morris, Humphrey, Kate....the list is endless. We go to two different babies homes during the week. They have stark differences. The one we go to on Monday is not funded as well as the other. The children do not have diapers to wear so we spend most of our time changing pants and inevitably chasing naked laughing children around. They do not get their first meal of the day until about 9 or 10. So for the first hour and a half we are there the babies are slightly cranky because they are so hungry. But...we do get to hold them and kiss them and play with them as much as humanly possible. The other babies home has been established in Uganda for a long time. It is cleaner and the babies have diapers and are on a schedule and most of the time receive proper medical attention. I do love that when we get there we are greeted by all the babies laying on the floor waiting for their turn in the bath tub! We wait for a clean baby and then wrap them up in a towel and take them to the changing room. We then dry of their little bodies and rub them down with Vaseline. I always try to take a little longer with my babies so I can talk to them and tickle them a little longer. We then dress them for the day and whenever possible I try to make them look smart! (that is how they say look nice here) We then put them back in their cribs until feeding time and then class time. However, we are not allowed to hold the babies that are able to sit up on their own. This fact just gets to me....they NEED to be HELD! I think I have mentioned this in a previous post...but it is still getting to me. I just ask that you pray for these babies. Pray that the Lord would lay it on people's hearts to come and adopt them and give them a family that will always love and cherish them.

I am currently sick and it is no fun...I had to go to the doctor yesterday and at first I was petrified to go to a Ugandan doctor. For those of you that know me well it is no surprise that I had to go to the doctor! The doctor I saw is an English man who has lived here for 30 years and reminded me a lot of the doctor off the TV show House. He gave me bright pink Ibuprofen and sent me home to rest. Please pray I would get better soon because we are planning on going on a safari on Sunday!!! I am SOOOOO excited about that!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

comfortable.

I have been here 7 weeks now....weird. This week is the first week that I have actually felt totally comfortable. That is only due to a lot of prayer and laying down a lot of my American expectations.

This was a week of firsts!
I went grocery shopping by myself, and to the street vendor who sells the cheap veggies, and to the potato man, and bought everything for a fabulous dinner for 8 people for just $10 dollars!! I felt so thrifty!
I went to meet my friend Loring at a mall for a pedicure and a late lunch. I had never been there before--never ridden a taxi by myself before---and never told a boda driver where to go before! And I successfully got there and talked the boda driver down in price!!! [although he still overcharged me! :o(]
Today I bought a cellphone so I can now call my friends here in Uganda!!
It is sometimes so weird that I am now living this life that no one I know is a part of. I can paint you a picture with my words...but it will never be the same. You can't smell the trash burning, or hear the children laughing, or feel a baby hugging you who hasn't been held enough, or hear the gate creak to announce someones arrival at the house, or even hear the horribly obnoxious birds that reside near our house. And for the first time in my life I feel ok being on my own. I do not feel like ANYTHING is lacking. I mean central air, Food Network, Starbucks, and good cheese---but those are trivial things! I feel ok because I know the Lord is holding me. A lot of my friends are married and I struggled a lot with not being where they were in life. And no offense girls....but you are NOT in Africa!!! :o) I know some of you desperately want to be (um....MK!) but the Lord has a reason that you are not.
Every week we have been going through a different fruit of the Spirit. Every week I know the Lord is whispering to me that those are still in me..because He is in me...despite what has happened in my past. I also "happened" to bring a bible study with me on the Fruits of the Spirit...conceidence...I think not! This week has been on love. In Greek there are different words for the different kinds of love. The love that the Lord calls us to is Agape love. Now this is the hardest and most rewarding of all the forms of love. Agape is the love of God expressed through us to others. It is more a response than a feeling. The hardest part about Agape love is that He calls us to have that love even for people that may have hurt us deeply. That means He wants us to pray for good to come to that person, to pray for protection for them, and most importantly to forgive them. Let me tell you....this is an excruciatingly hard thing to do...but a freeing one. It is hard because it goes against everything that our flesh is telling us to do. The good news is that God does not expect us to do this on our own. It is only through Him that a heart change of this magnitude can happen. I an grateful for this experience, and grateful that the Lord would care enough to pursue me until I can see the lines on His face.

"So, my Lord, I bring this offering;
a stubborn heart of stone
And ask You , in its absence,
please exchange it for Your own."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

pictures!!!!!
















Baby in a basin. clearly!















Sherrie. My favorite child at Victory Primary School!
















Courtney and Hannah! A BEAUTIFUL child at Kyambogo Primary
















Boys on lunch break in Gulu

















The Jaja! Look at the beauty and wisdom
















Child in Gulu














Joy at the Remand Home. A juvenille prison














My self and a child from the school of the deaf. He is my buddy because we have the same color eyes! aren't they gorgeous!



















Playing dress up at the museum! shhhh. don't tell anyone!

I hope you all enjoyed a peak into Uganda! I miss you all a ton!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

afflictions eclipsed by glory.

It has been about a week since I have blogged. That is mainly due to the fact that our Internet has been PAINFULLY slow (like20 minutes to load a page) and I have not wanted to sit at the computer that long. Also, as the title somewhat suggests, there have been a few hard days over here. There has been disappointment and unforeseen hurdles to handle over the past few days. As always...I take a little it to process through things. Being in a country with a lot of down time and few distractions is great for processing. The Lord has shown me many things over the past few days. Number one, as Christians we are not to judge people, simply things and circumstances. That is hard at times because as broken sinful humans we always want to condemn others to make ourselves feel elevated in some way. Secondly, HIS glory and love and grace and forgiveness--- eclipses everything else. This simple point does not leave us room to hold grudges or to not forgive simply because the pain rendered was too great and seemingly unforgivable. He calls us to so much more than that.
Since arriving here I have asked the Lord to break my heart for the people here, to break my heart for what breaks His, and to cultivate a love for these people and this country.
It is beginning.
I find my thoughts wandering to the children. The faces who were once nameless..now have a name and a smile, and beautiful chocolate eyes....Sherrie, Maria, Gift, Christine, David, Molly, Jethro, Joseph, Grace, and Jacob. When I leave them I wonder what their homes are like. Are they read to? Are they hugged and kissed? Did they eat that night? Did they get home safely? Did the nurses care for them? It is a wonderful and refreshing change for a mind that has been incessantly mulling over the events of this past year. The sights and the smells are all becoming familiar now. Sleeping under a mosquito net seems like the most natural thing in the world!
I prayed for this..and He has answered. Week one, I never thought I would feel comfortable here. Now I do. I also wish that I was older(and had an unlimited supply of money)...then I could attempt to adopt one of these wonderful, sweet, beautiful, children who is in desperate need of love. [don't worry mom and dad, you would love them immediately!! ;o)] Maybe they would learn that His glory would cover their afflictions as well.

This past weekend/week has had so many interesting parts! Friday night some of us went on an adventure to Kabalagala (it means pancake in Luganda) to find Ethiopian food! After a LONG taxi ride, getting dropped off at the wrong spot, a boda ride, being dropped off at the wrong stop again, asking for directions at an Italian grocery store, and a 15 minute walk we finally found the restaurant. It was SO worth the hassle!!! The food was incredible and we had such a great time! Saturday I went to another craft market and then to dinner with the Morris's in Kampala. The dinner and the conversations were wonderful! I got to have pasta WITH Parmesan cheese and coffee after dinner....oh man was it a good day! Here in Uganda it is the little things. Monday...BABIES!! They were precious as always and were fascinated by bubbles! Today we went to Katalemwa Children's Hospital and had a GREAT time! The kids just sang and danced!! I helped lead worship with Collin. It turned into a dance party....it was priceless. We then performed a puppet show of Noah's Ark with beanie babies and Dora the Explorer as Noah..TIA! Hannah and I then went on quite the adventure to retrieve our PACKAGES!!!! It was like Christmas in October [oh wait, that was my Christmas!] A few highlights from the packages....
Jiffy Cornbread Mix
Hush Puppy Mix --- That is right! The south has hit UGANDA!! YAY!!
Microwaveable Cake!
Cookie Mix
T-shirts (very helpful when all of your "clean" laundry is on the line and it is insisting on raining everyday and it isn't even rainy season anymore!)
Reese's Pieces
MOCHA CAPPUCCINO Mix!!!
Shout out to Uncle John and Aunt Katie! I already gave away some tooth brushes! I did however find it hysterical that my dentist uncle sent a box FULL of candy...and tooth brushes! Wonderful!

Tonight...we went to the Ndere Cultural Center and saw traditional dances! They are sooooooooo talented! Woah! At one point the women were dancing while carrying 7 that is right 7 jugs on their heads. The highlight of the night for me was when they called the audience to the stage and people from about 20 different countries all sang Amazing Grace in English in a circle. (it made me feel a little guilty that so many people in the world know English and I only know...well, English) It was a beautiful moment seeing God's people together in a foreign land praising His name together. I imagine that is a little what Heaven is going to be like. Everyone together singing to Him.

Well I must get to bed. It is BABIES in the morning and it is 11:30 here. So good night and mulungi (love) to all! I will post more pictures when the internet speeds up again!

"I have a feeling that if you look for it, you will see that love actually is all around us"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gulu. the lines on their faces

Gulu.....it almost felt like going home. Upon arriving I got that same feeling I get when I leave the hustle and bustle of Raleigh and pull into the driveway in Elon and see my peaceful backyard and quiet street. Gulu looked right out of my imagination. We walked a long dirt road, past numerous NGO's, and arrived at a little clearing with a long rectangle house surrounded by trees, bushes, and round thatched roof huts. We were greeted by the sweet and always smiling 19 year old Jackie. She might be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Then we got to meet "the" Jaja [grandmother]. Probably the most precious old women I have ever met. The lines on her face told her story. We went on a walk around Gulu and got to witness 10 year old girls carrying full jerry cans of water on their HEADS! I can barely carry a full one 10 feet! I also got to try my first fresh sugar cane. You just rip it off with your teeth, suck the sugar out, and spit it out on the ground. When we got home we spent time with the wonderful children outside singing songs and trying to make them laugh. We even met a few little babies who had never even seen a white person before and they were PETRIFIED of us! The first night Jackie made us a delicious meal of potatoes with onions and tomatoes, meat, and cabbage [a staple meal]. Cooking with one "burner" (hole that has charcoal) takes a very long time! We all used the chance to lay in the yard talking and looking at the GORGEOUS stars. We saw like 5 shooting stars! Then six of us slept in one little bedroom. 2 on the bed and 4 of us on the floor. It was pretty hysterical.
Tuesday: We slept in a little, had breakfast in the yard, and then walked through the hut neighborhood to town. The organization, Invisible Children, has their headquarters in Gulu. They have done so much to raise awareness about the 20 year war in Northern Uganda and Joseph Kony and the thousands of child soldiers that he abducted and became invisible. We wanted to visit the headquarters and usually an intern will give you a little talk and take you on a tour of the offices. When we got there we walked into an office and a very cheery looking woman greeted us. Her name was Jolly and she is pretty much the head of the organization. We were stunned that she would see us! She was herself abducted, has spoken with Joseph Kony on the phone, and regularly deals with high ranking officials. It was amazing to hear her stories. She told us that the biggest issue right now in Northern Uganda is that the people who have been released from the IDP camps have no homes to go back to because they have been burned by the rebels and they have no money to rebuild. Many of the relief organizations have pulled out because the war is no longer going on. She also informed us that Kony and his armies have moved to the Congo and are gaining strength by abducting more children. They will send a group of child soldiers ahead of the other troops and when they are attacked by national troops they do not know they are attacking children before it is too late. The biggest fear in northern Uganda right now is that if a conflict breaks out in southern Sudan Kony will have the opportunity to cross the border again into Uganda. While the people of Gulu are slowly beginning to feel normalcy return to their lives, the lines on their faces tell the stories of the years past.

Highlights and funny moments from the trip:
-having to use the dreaded squatty potty for 3 days
-showering in the middle of the yard in a bucket in complete darkness
-attempting to eat a mountain of posho (starchy food) with literally a peanut butter/bitter greens/fish slime sauce... oh it was awful
-watching Jackie perform a traditional courtship dance with Felix
- seeing Jackie's face light up when we presented her with gifts to say thank you for her hospitality
- seeing the children peek out from behind the bushes
- having a going away meal with the Jaja
- surviving literally 427 consecutive speed bumps
- eating goat on a stick that we bought through the window of the bus
- finally arriving home!

We have 2 days of missions left this week and then a weekend filled with raft markets, ethopian food, and dinner with an american family in Kampala! I miss everyone and I can't believe it is already the end of October! I am definitely missing fall though. It is HOT here on the equator! Love and a blessed day to all!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

one month ramblings.

I have been in Uganda for one month now. Nothing is how I imagined it. To the people, the sights, the smells, all of it. I have been thinking a lot recently about why it is that we long to have someone in our lives. Someone to make us feel loved, and safe, and important. I have been reading Donald Miller's "searching for God knows what" and CS Lewis. Both of them touch on this issue. The Lord created as beings that thrive off community. When He created Adam He saw that it was not good for man to be alone---so he created Eve for him. They are the only people to ever live in perfect community with God. Since the Fall all of humanity has been searching for that "someone" to fill the void that they were feeling. I have always understood that the Lord created us to live in community and to need an other in our lives. Honestly it did not until recently cross my mind that the "someone" I was created for, to fulfill all of my needs, is God. I have been down the path numerous times of looking for that in other people, and the truth is that other people will always fail you, because well--they are people. God is the only one who can fill the deepest longings of our souls. I believe [although I have clearly not experienced it yet] that marriage is meant to be the closest reflection of God's perfect love for us. I have seen this play out in many of my friends marriages and it is such a beautiful thing. You may be asking what in the world this has to do with my time in Africa. Well, the other week we had a VERY frustrating conversation with 2 random Ugandan men about the importance of holding and showing love to their children. [don't ask how we got on that topic..i promise it will just make you mad]. They were saying that children didn't really need to be held or shown affection when they are young. Oh how wrong they are. I have seen the pure joy on children's faces when I hold their hand, or kiss their heads. It is apparent that many of them to not receive love or attention on a daily basis. They are taught from a young age that the way to handle any mistake is with violence. If a child gets a homework answer wrong, does not use a ruler to do their math problems..they are caned (beaten). Not always, but sometimes. One of the babies homes we go to does not allow us to hold the babies that are able to sit up unless we are carrying them to class or feading them. They may get fussy when you put them down. These children are already going to have abandonment issues because they are orphans...and now they only get shown love and affection if a volunteer sneaks in a kiss or two before they leave!?!?!?!?! As Christians we are called to show Christ's love to others...I have never understood how important that is until now. Also being here I have seen the need for male missionaries. These people need to have good male examples to follow...because they are lacking. So men, this is a challenge to you all too. These babies need love from you too! There are so many games and sport things that the men just connect on such a better level. So come on over!!!!!

Today I got to meet with the family that my church, Vintage 21, is partnering with to start a church plant in Kampala. They were soooo amazing! They have 3 children, 4,6, &9 and I think they are so brave to uproot their family and come here. They took me to lunch and I got to have coffee!!! YUM! I also got to video chat with my wonderful girlfriends back home!! It was so great to see their faces and I miss them so much!!! Last night we had a rat in the house. Yuck. We don't know if it is gone so I am REALLY jumpy if I think I feel anything on me. The rats here are HUGE!

We are headed north to Gulu on Monday! It will be so nice to get out of the city and see the villages. I am not quite sure what we are doing there but I am sure I will have GREAT stories when I get back. Love you all!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

a slice of humble pie.

[sorry if my title is corny...I am exhausted and it made me smile!]

Hannah is playing guitar right now...and it is so soothing. Collin is laughing outside. The echos of laughing children still ring in my ears. My feet are dirty from the red dust and my eyes are tired from no sleep. But, I am feeling peace return to my life. Like the changing of the seasons (which does not happen here) my heart and priorities and expectations are slowly changing. Peace and joy are returing. Oh how I have missed you! I am so glad the Lord cares about the small details of me and is in tune with my every need. It is a freeing thing. To give Him control. I have been reading through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis and here is one of my favorite quotes so far.
"The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection" Apply that to your life...and see where it takes you!

This weekend was a whirlwind of activity. Saturday we had home visits for our sponsor kids. I was paired with Jayan and we had 10 kids to visit around Ntinda. The first house we went to was the lady that cleans our house, Mama Louis, aka Sarah. Her son Louis is ADORABLE and he had just learned the parts of his body in English. They lived in a 6' x 8' room with one bed, a bench, a chair, and a cabinet for dishes. That is it. She spent her hard earned money buying us sodas and rolls. We had to ask a lot of questions and his answers were hysterical. He is 4 and when you ask a 4year old what his goals are for the next 2 months be ready for a great answer. His goal was to get a soda!! Most of the houses were similar in shape and size. Some had more than 2 people living in that size house. Even the biggest and nicest house we went to we would consider "condemened". Many of the kids suffered from recurring illnesses and they have no way of going to the doctor. Many of them told us that they would go days without eating yet they served us drinks and a snack. Humbled. One jaja (grandma) has aids and was thrown out of her house by her step children [a common practice]. Many when asked if they needed anything replied with either a bible or maybe a pair of shoes because they did not have any. I don't even know how many shoes I own. The culture here is just so fascinating.

On another note we have become friends with a girl named Genny. She lives about 5 minutes from our house. She is here with an organization called Sent International. Her official title is Deaf Blind Consultant for Uganda. That is right for the whole country and she is only 25. She is soooo passionate about what she is doing and it is truly inspiring. She makes me want to find something that I am passionate about! We go to the Ntinda School of the Deaf once a week and she has been teaching us sign language. I am a visual learner and I am picking it up rather quickly!!
Monday was Nsambia Babies Home! I finally got peed on. Christine who would not leave my side peed on me TWICE! She laughed both times....and so did I. The babies there are so sweet and love our attention. They call us "mommy" and it breaks my heart. I wish I had enough money to buy them diapers for a year. Instead of them peeing all over the place! Today we went to Victory Primary and Kierka High School. It was a good day but many of us were really tired. I am getting used to living here now. I finally feel like I know my way around for the most part. I know where the samosa lady is, where the rolex man is [chipati with eggs and veggies rolled up], the store, the best place to buy produce, etc. Ok, it is getting close to dinner and I am off to spend time with the girls and maybe make some african tea!

Friday, October 9, 2009

again and again.

This past year there are 2 things that keep coming up. Whether it is from a preacher from Singapore preaching in Uganda, or I just happen to turn my bible there. Or a song that I heard on the radio and then heard performed by a girl from Portland at a Ugandan church. It has been a constant reminder that our Lord cares about the small details of my life. He understands my needs more fully and more completely than I will ever realize. This passage of scripture has quickly become my sustainer when my thoughts or my day take a wrong turn. Isaiah 61:1-4

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

The Lord has been completing these verses in my life over the past year. Now, while they are no where near obtaining their completing work in me I find it so interesting that I have now come to a place in life where I am trying to be Christ's hands and feet. I am trying to proclaim good news to the poor, bring joy to the brokenhearted, and show these wonderful children of Uganda that the Lord will restore the places in their lives that have been devastated. I must strive for this because that is what the Lord has done for me. As Christians we are not called to simply accept Christ's grace and forgiveness and then keep it for ourselves. Our faith is meant to permeate every fiber of our lives and affect every decision we make. From money, to careers, to love. Especially to love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect unity. Believers all have the holy spirit within them and one of the fruits of the spirit is love.

There is an amazing song that is on the new David Crowder CD. The lyrics are a constant encouragement and lead me back to the feet of Christ. The song is How He Loves Us. I could not figure out how to post a link to hear the song, but here are the lyrics. I highly recommend listening to the song!

[before I post the lyrics]

Today is Uganda's Independence day! They do not really celebrate, so the muzungus decided to throw a party! Complete with roasted marshmallows! This week for dinner Hannah and I made hamburgers and french fries with REAL Heinz ketchup and diet coke! But the TIA moment came when we ran out of gas for the stove halfway through cooking the fries...So, our 14 year old neighbor, Jovan had to get us charcoal and start a fire for us. (we had no clue how to do it!) And we fired and grilled the burgers and fries over the charcoal fire. Needless to say dinner took awhile to get ready!

Going to Sanyu Babies Home yesterday was very hard. There was a new baby in Jacob's crib.... I found out that last Friday a germanvolunteer noticed that his fever was getting worse but she had to leave for the night. She informed the night shift workers and they essentially dismissed it and told her to put him back in his crib. They did not get him to the hospital soon enough. I was so frustrated. Different cultures = different ways of handling things. I did get to hold sweet Dorthy again. Who I learned was found in the bottom of a squatty potty. Horrible. Pray for these babies. That they would find good homes...and soon.

I love the comments. They are so encouraging! :o)

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh! how He loves us,
Oh! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…
DCB

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

even when my heart is breaking.


Today has been a hard day. My first week here I went to the Sanyu Babies home and I posted pictures of me holding sweet Jacob. This past week when we went I walked in to all of the babies laying on the floor and when Jacob saw me he got the biggest grin on his face! I was so excited that he remembered me! A lot of the babies were sick and the workers did not want me to take him outside. I tickled his belly, gave him a kiss, and left him to sleep in his crib. I found out this morning that Jacob passed away this weekend. Amanda who helps adopting parents there told me that they were not sure why he died. She thought he might have been anemic. The babies home did not have enough money to take him to the good international hospital, so he did not receive the best care. This is what makes me want to take one of these children home. In the states he would have received treatment and if he had a problem more than likely it would have been discovered when he was very young.
I am crushed. Jacob has no parents to mourn for him. So I will. I don't even know if he had a funeral or if anyone went if he did. This precious little boy helped to show me the kingdom of God in the 3 short hours that I spent with him. He trusted me when I picked him up and he smiled when I spoke to him. That is how the Lord wants us to be with Him. He wants us to trust that He will hold us and pick us up when we need it. We are supposed to smile when He speaks to us and always feel secure in His love. I pray that Jacob felt loved by me, and I pray that somehow he knows that I will miss him. I pray that he knows that when I get to Sanyu tomorrow I will go straight to his crib just to make sure there is not some kind of mistake, and I will hope to see his smiling face and his chubby cheeks. I just have to trust that he is in the arms of Christ right now and that someday I will get to hold him again. I don't really have words to correctly express how I am feeling. But this tiny boy showed me that I need to trust the Lord. He will hold me when my heart gets shattered, when I feel alone and confused, and if I just listen for His still soft voice I will receive the peace and joy I have been looking for. I leave you with this passage from Luke. I pray that we would all strive to have a childlike faith and come before our Father with a trusting and expectant heart, like Jacob.

Luke 18:15-17 15People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

TIA [this. is. africa.]


[me holding 2 week old Ashford]
[baby Maria!!]
















TIA is a common saying here at the Empower A Child house. There are just things that you see or that happen that you just have to say... "TIA" Here are a few examples.
- there is a nightclub near our house that we can hear the music from constantly...last night's wonderful music selection was "colors of the wind". That's right, the one from Pochantas. Priceless.
- you will see a small child playing with a machete sized knife on a daily basis. scary
- when buying food from street vendors, just don't think about the sanitation grade
- we constantly hear.. "muzungu, muzungu, i love you!" oh man...

those are just a few, I will keep you posted on more TIA events.

Thursday we went to the Sanyu Babies Home. When we walked in we were greeted by very unpleasant smells and lots of sick babies. They were pitiful. After getting all of them bathed and dressed and fed the girls and I each chose a baby and took them outside. This week I got to hold precious Dorothy. She was not content unless she could see my face. As we were sitting there talking and cuddling and kissing those babies we were wondering if they would ever know how many different people held them and kissed them and wished that they could just take them home with them. We have met many other muzungu volunteers from Sweden, Germany, Scotland, & England. In Germany you are required to do I think it is 9 months of some sort of service work. It can be abroad or in Germany. I think that is so wonderful and I wish that America would require the same thing of their youth. I am not sure how well that would go over though. On Friday we went to 2 primary schools and the highlight of that event was when a huge, and I mean huge cow just walked through the children playing. It was completly unattended. I wonder where he was headed?!?! The children ran after it screaming! There are other children who are not in the school who hang out around us whenever we are there doing the program. It is so sad because the school children treat them like outcast too and push them away when they get near. I just give them the biggest smile I can muster and tickle them and try to make sure they feel included. The schools really amaze me. The classrooms are tiny and they squeeze about 40 children into each room. They all sit on wooden benches and most do not have paper or a pencil. There are hand drawn posters on scrap paper depicting the alphabet, animals, numbers, phrases, etc. US teachers...are spoiled. I am sure the teachers here do not have to deal with annoying parents. In fact I doubt they deal with the teachers at all unless it is to get them money. I have taught a few times..it was so fun but interesting because it has to be translated into Luganda and so I have to pause and usually lose my train of thought! I asked our Ugandan volunteers what the children did for lunch on the days that we don't serve them porridge. Well...they don't eat lunch, or a snack unless their parents sent them with a few shillings to get a snack. Then they won't get dinner until at the earliest 8pm. So the teachers love when we bring poridge because the students concentrate better for the rest of the day. Sooooooooo incredibly different from the states. Also, you only go to school here if you can pay for it. If not, oh well says the government. That is why child sponsorship is so needed and so important. Empower A Child has 100 kids on the sponsorship waiting list.

Today is Saturday and I am so excited because Hannah and Courtney and I are going to a legit Italian restaurant! Yay for NOT rice and beans!!! We also went to a craft market. They have beautiful things there for really cheap!!

Prayer request: I have a bad cold and I would love not to be sick by Monday so I can go see 2 week old baby Ashford again.
Energy and stamina to keep up with these kids. I now understand why all of my teacher friends are so tired!!

Love and blessings to all!!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A day in the life of Me!

Hello All. So I have had a lot of requests for more details about my life and the people and just activities in general. I will do my best to paint you a picture of a typical weekday here.

7:00- watch alarm goes off and I try to remember how to press the sleep button. (lost the travel alarm clock)
- then the task of fighting with my mosquito net begins. I slide out and slip into my flip flops so my feet do not become nasty!
- the usual morning routine begins
- I sleepily walk out to a room full of male and female Ugandan volunteers all very chipper and "sharply" dressed (you say that if someone looks nice) It is customary to greet everyone so no grumpy morning Meredith is allowed.
- then the fight for the butter (which needs no refrigeration..) the bread and the one frying pan begins. The usual breakfast fare is fried bread with sugar and water or tea.
- some mornings we have group devotions and some mornings we are rushing to the van to make it to the babies home.
- Courtney, Hannah, Rachel, Ivan, Collin, Felix, Jeff, Rita, Edith, Amanda and who ever else is coming that day all pile into the van and begin the oh so wonderful bumpy van ride to our destination.
- When we arrive at our outreach we are greeted by tons of shy smiling faces that all what to hold your hand, rub your hairy arm (they have no arm hair so we are fascinating), count your freckles, talk to you, and just get a hug or a kiss.
- at any outreach we have singing, games, a bible story, exercise, and sometimes feeding programs.
- after our morning outreach we head back to the house for lunch. Someone has stayed behind to prepare lunch so it is ready right when we get there. The typical lunch is a form of starch (rice, potatoes, pasta, matooke), rice, stewed meat, greens, and usually fruit or sliced avacado. We get 20,000 ugandan shillings per meal to use to buy food for everyone. That equals $10. But things are CHEAP. Like today. We got 5 onions and a bag of greenbeans for $1!!!
- Off to the afternoon activity! The afternoons are usually spent with older kids, maybe 13-18, at either a Scripture Union (like a christian club in school), Kids in Need home for street kids, or to the Remand Home which is a juvenile home for convicted teens. Interesting fact. In Uganda you are guilty until proven innocent so some of the kids have done nothing but some are real criminals.
- Back to the house to hangout for a bit. The girls and I either read, journal, do laundry (which takes FOREVER. Hand washing and rinsing everything and then hanging it to dry...love whoever invented the washer and dryer), go get African coffee, ice cream, or if it is your turn to cook go to the grocery.
- the walk to the grocery is a bumpy, dusty, 5 minute walk uphill. My favorite thing about going to the grocery are the police men that stand at the door to "check" your receipt. This really means that they simply initial your receipt. No, they do not check your bag, or read what you bought. I am convinced that would be the most unfullfilling job ever. The government is wasting so much money! The grocery has so many types of rice and flour and spices. We never buy the fruits and veggies there, only at the market stands due to price.
- The market stands have: onions, garlic, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, green pepper, cilantro, eggplant, avocado, pineapple, banana, passion fruit, peas, carrots, and I think that is all. Sometimes they have random things too.
- On the way back to the house as soon as the neighbor children see us they FLY down the hill screaming and smiling and jump into our arms as we twirl them around. Then they help us carry our groceries and get a hug from each one of us.
- Dinner is always a process. Take tonight, for example, in the middle of cooking the power goes out. Praise the Lord for a gas stove and kerosene lanterns! Dinner can take up to 2-3 hours to cook...most of the time it is worth the wait.
- After dinner activities have been composed of girls movie night, 4 of us crammed onto one sofa to catch up on Grey's Anatomy that took only2 1/2 days to download, long talks, Flight of the Concords, reading...etc.
- Bed time and be sure to apply bug spray and tuck the net in tight!

Last night was one of my favorite thus far.
The air was cool for once and the sky was clear. Two blonde muzungus and 17 Ugandan children all crowded around one Mac to watch KungFu Panda. It was like Christmas morning for them. I had Claire and Maria draped over me and when I offered some of my cool clean water she downed it in two seconds. Contentment is what I felt.

Monday we went back to Nsambia and I got to hold 2 week old precious Ashford [that is what I have named him, I can't pronounce his real name] I didn't ask how he got there, and I didn't really want to know. All I know is that as long as he was close to me he was happy. Another girl there named Gift stole my heart. She was new too and she was near me most of the time. She had the best laugh/giggle I have ever heard.

Yesterday we went to the Ntinda School of the Deaf. InUganda if you are deaf you are more than likely sent away to live at a home. These smiling children were amazing! The littlest things made them happy. I spent almost an hour simply throwing a ball back and forth with a group of them. There were a few older ones who could even talk. I sometimes never know if what I am doing is meaningful to these kids or lasting, but when we were leaving any of them asked if we would come back next Tuesday. When our reply was yes, their smiles said it all. I feel like these children and babies are slowly helping the pieces of my soul come back. They are showing me that hope and love and redemption are still possible, even for little ole' me. Christ is the ultimate healer but I know that He is using these people to show me what His kingdom is supposed to look like.

Quick glance at my favorite people here:

Courtney: has lived all over and now lives in Bristol, TN. She is sweet, intentional, outgoing, funny, and loves to talk through things. She has a masters in English Literature and may want to do occupational therapy.

Hannah: One of the funniest, most random, most talanted singers that I have ever met. Her parents are missionaries in Mexico and she can always make me laugh. She is an incredible speaker and the kids love her!

Felix [ugandan]: "sweet Felix" is what we always say. Everyone here falls in love with Felix just a little bit. Awhile ago he was in a terrible car accident and had to go through tons of physical therapy. After healing he decided to pursue rehabilitation all for the glory of God. He is the guy that finds the child that is the most shy or the most disabled and puts all of his energy into making that child simle and feel Christ's love. He went with us to the deaf school b/c he knew sign language and it was amazing to watch him.

I love and miss you all! Keep up the comments, I really do love them!!!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hope in Uganda






Above are some pictures! Enjoy! Highlight of today. Getting a pedicure for 50 cents.

1) my bed!
2) the girls in the house
3) Jacob!
4) me and Jacob at Sanyu Babies Home!
[not sure what order they uploaded in, so just figure out which title goes with which picture]
I want to tell you a story. Our time in Kids in Need had drawn to a close. We were with the ragamuffin children of Uganda's society. Street kids who were living in this place with nothing but each other a few scraggly puppies and their God. I thought we were about to leave, and then two teenage kids who had been hanging on the outskirts came up to sing an original song. They began to sing and although I could not understand them, I knew in my soul it was beautiful and heartfelt. Then Felix began to translate for me....and I was stunned. This "boy" was singing about how much hope he had in the Lord. That although he had no parents, no money, and few friends his hope was in the Lord. He praised God for his life and the breath in his lungs. The song ended and I was humbled to the core. What have I had to endure. Sure I have had some tough times---but nothing like that. So on this relaxing Saturday in Uganda, I will praise the Lord for my life. Whom He has given much, much is expected. I hope and pray He will use me to show His light and love for the broken, the dejected, the forgotten, the betrayed. For after all, I have been all of those things, we all have at some point, and it was Him alone who pulled me out towards His light. We all need just enough hope to look up. You never know what you might see!

Love to everyone! Thank you for the prayers and encouraging comments. I read each one of them! ALSO: disclaimer. Do not think you have to send me a package, it was just the fastest way to get the info to people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Correction!!

Ok, not sure if anyone has sent me mail or packages, but here is the correct address:

Meredith Strickland
c/o Empower a Child
PO Box 33273
Kampala, Uganda

It takes about 3 weeks for packages to get here. List of items that could be useful

Well, (community group) cd's with some of Pastor Tyler's new sermons because I lost my ipod, Hushpuppy mix, dish detergent but not the kind for the dishwasher, clorox/antibacterial kitchen cleaning wipes, cake mix, brownie mix (etc), another t-shirt, gum, snacks, NEW DAVID CROWDER CD!, DVD's, little kids toys, beads, markers, string, pot holders, dishrags, and anything else your heart desires! Letters are welcome of course!!

Highlights of today: seeing crippled, bandaged children sing and dance their praises to the Lord, telling the story of David and Goliath and hearing it translated into Luganda, hearing teenagers sing in english and Luganda, good conversations with Courtney (from Tennessee) and Hannah (goes to School in Portland and goes to the same church as Donald Miller, so cool), making Italian in African along with dessert samosas while singing classic 90's Goo Goo Dolls with spoons as microphones!

Also, I was encouraged by John5: 6-9 when Jesus comes upon a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He asked Him if he wanted to get better and when the man responded yes Jesus said "Get up, pick up your mat and walk." and the man was healed. I feel like this trip is the beginningof me picking up my mat and walking. I feel like I have been walking wounded for a whole year and when I said Yes to Christ is when He began His completing and healing work in me. I know that if a year of hurt brought me here to sit at the feet of Christ then all I can say is "blessed be the name of the Lord". He loves me and all of a sudden I am unaware of my afflictions that are eclipsed by His glory [thank you David Crowder for that quote].

Tomorrow- babies home and remand home!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Uganda 101

There is a storm blowing in over the hills of Kampala tonight. I just finished making "taco" meat and chipatis for the house. [chipatis are fried flat pieces of dough that are the size of a tortilla] I walked the 10 minutes to the market on the crowded dusty street with Collin (a ugandan) and he haggled with the ladies at the stand. Going to the market is when I become acutely aware of the color of my skin and hair. It is a rare occurance to see another muzungu. All of the taxi drivers and boda boda men think that you MUST need a ride :o) either that or they are asking you to marry the (which frankly tops my proposal record in the states!) Then we walk back and little claire and maria run up to us to get a hug before I dissappear behind the gate. I hand poured, mixed (on our "clean" kitchen counter), and rolled about 20 chipati's and Hannah fried. It is Collin's mission to teach me how to cook Africa food (which I am not super fond of) Now as I sit here at the office computer looking at the gecko on the wall trying to blend in I will tell you what I have learned about the culture so far here in Uganda. Then I will tell you about the outreaches we have done so far!

  • pedestrians do not have the right of way, if you are hit by a moving vehical they will drive awayquickly because if the public sees it then they will mob the vehicle and take the person out and kill them. crazyness.
  • there are about 4 paved roads in kampala.
  • it is possible to fit 17 people in a 12-14 passanger van.
  • chickens roam everywhere, just like squirrels!
  • you can see a cow tied to anything... a stump, rock, tree, pipe, etc
  • they put a rope around babies waist to give them a good waistline
  • they pierce babys ears so they cannot be used as child sacrifices
  • PDA is very looked down upon
  • if you are wearing something that is more than 3-4 inches above your knee you are considered a prostitute
  • babies have a low level of importance
  • Ugandans get their view of americans solely through media. Thus, they have thought that white people can fly(superman can right?), when we are shot it can't kill us [white people always live in movies], native americans are a myth and no longer exist, if you do not have the body of a supermodel you are either fat or pregnant, eskimos are not real and if they are only live in Greenland, and they do not have a clue what I mean when I say "ya'll".
So, what I have learned in a nutshell. Outreaches...

Nsambia Babies Home: Monday went here in the am and walked into a class of about 15 toddlers who all screamed either "muzungu" or "mommy" all at once! Break your heart right? We just played with them and loved on them for a few hours. Only issuse, no diapers, so we changed about 25 pairs of pants! When the 3 little babies got up we each took one of them and held them while we played with the others. I got to hold Morris who has been there for a few months and was very content to sit in my lap!

Victory Primary School: Imagine...walking down a dirt path through the slums to a clearing where there are 4 clapboard and tin roof buildings that house about 100 students. We help teach, make and serve porridge, lead worship, and do a lesson. Our group acted out Daniel and the Lions. They loved it. The best was when the small kids started basically booty dancing to the djembe drum! Priceless. I will try to get a video next week. At one point I swear I had like 15 kids touching me!

Scripture Union: a small 40 min time of priase and worship, prayer, a message, and discussion. These are older kids and I got talk with Barbara who's favorite subject is chemistry and wants to be a doctor! I led prayer at this meeting.

Whew! That is a lot! The house has been without water for over 2 days now which means bucket showers and squatty pottys. [which are swarming with cockroaches and basically disgusting] PLEASE pray for water SOON!!! I miss everyone and I am getting into the swing of things now. The Lord is teaching me that I really cannot get through a day without Him or His grace. I was encouraged today by Matthew when He says... "do not fear, for I am with you" and with me He is. Pray for safety and wisdom and that the Lord would continually fill me with His joy! Because really, all we need is Him.

oh, and as americans we are most spoiled by dishwashers and washing machines. i washed [and i use that term wash loosely] dishes last night for like an hour. Ok, time to go have girls movie night with Courtney and Hannah! The Holiday will be showing in 10 minutes in Uganda!!

Seek Him. Seek His face. ask for His spirit and joy to fill you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

sunday in Africa.

Today was a little long... we went to a 3 hour church service...there was a little girl who sat with us who was fascinted with our watches and rubber bands on our wrists! It was adorable. We then went to lunch and I had chips and chop (ie. a furry flat fried meat of some sort...awful!) Then I went to an african market to buy fruits and veggies and meat and rice and then carried it back to the house with one of the guys. Then we had a huge party for all of the summer volunteers complete with them slaughtering a goat and sticking the hide on the wall outside. After seeing that I just couldn't bring myself to eat it. The TAIL was intact on the grill!!! I was in charge of decorating with Christmas decorations...it was pretty hysterical. There is a picture of Obama in our living room and we gave him earrings with ornaments. It made me laugh!

I am ready to get into the outreaches. Tomorrow we are going to a babies home and having a planning meeting. Hopefully I will be able to walk into town to get some money and breakfast food. I was informed that next week we are going to Gulu on Tuesday. Not sure what we are doing but it will be an adventure! I am praying that the Lord would change my heart towards this place and these people. Because honestly...right now...i have cried everyday and I want to go home. But I cannot..so pray for courage and a changed heart. Miss you all! I will try and figure out how to post pictures. no promises though. The internet is a bit slow. Also, pray I could get some good sleep. There is a bar right next to us that plays LOUD music till like 2am. NOT FUN! And there are these awful squawking birds and a cow that moos in the morning so loudly it sounds like it is giving birth! Ohhh TIA! (this is Africa!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

here.

Goodness, I am in Uganda! I am still feeling slightly (ok VERY) overwhelmed. Everything here is different. The smells, the sights, everything! There are hardly any stoplights here, there are few paved roads, there is no orion in the sky, but there are lots and lots of bugs!

Today consisted of me sleeping12 hours from my jet lag, riding a boda boda for the first time, eating goat and jibate (not sure how it is spelled, but it is fried dough pitas), and then lead praise and worship at a campus crusade type meeting for about 200 college students, and watched am African fashion show about good dress codes, and saw a beautiful lightning storm. And do they all know how to dance!!! Woah! It is so encouraging that the Lord hears praises in any language.

The house I am staying in is good and we have a guard at our hardcore gate named Friday who lives in a tiny shed beside it! I have a bunk bed complete with mosquito netting. I will just tell myself it is the canopy bed I have always wanted! There are 4 other girls here that are all very nice. 1 more is coming in a few weeks, but 3 of them are leaving in November. :o( I have a lot of emotions right now, but I know I will be ok in time. The Lord has me here for a reason and i am anxious to meet the kiddies. I miss home a lot, but I am comforted by all of the prayers! Miss you all and keep praying for courage and strength.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

leaving.

Proverbs 13:19 - "A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul".

  • 2,000 trips to Target [check]
  • repacking my suitcase 8 times [check]
  • enough medicine to cure a village [check]
  • hard core mosquito repellent [check]
  • shiny new blank journal [check]
  • giraffe print travel pillow! [check]
  • camera to capture the moments [check]
  • bible to get me through the day [check]
  • prepared for what lies ahead [not even close!!]
I keep looking at the clock and imaging what time it is of Uganda. Smiles on dark faces keep floating through my mind. That must mean only one thing...... I am FINALLY leaving for UGANDA!!! YAY!!

I am still in complete shock that I am going. I have no idea what is awaiting me and for the first time in my life I am completely ok with that! I feel like I have spent this entire summer pouring over people's blogs and pictures I have found on Facebook of EAC in Uganda. I have spent a lot of time reflecting over the events of this past year and as hard and as painful as many of them were...I am so thankful that the Lord allowed everything to happen... because now I get to live out a dream of going to Africa. I feel like everything in my life has been leading up to this moment. I am standing at a precipice and I am ready to jump. (those of you who know me well know how much i despise roller coasters and heights and really anything to do with falling....so I am still shocked at how calm I feel about everything!) I have a sneaking suspicion that the Lord will show me more than I could have ever expected and break me in ways that will humble me and lead me deeper and closer to Him. I can't wait! I have spent far too long making my life about things other than the Lord. My hope and prayer for this journey is that the Lord will teach me how to love more fully and deeply and completely, and cause an irresistible revolution to awaken in my soul that can never be extinguished.

I will be leaving from Raleigh at 11:15am tomorrow morning and travelling to Charlotte, New York (spend the night there), Johannesburg South Africa (15 hour flight), and finally to Entebbe, Uganda. In Entebbe the wonderful people of Empower a Child will be picking me up complete with a sign and driving me to the house I will be living in! I have no clue how great the internet connection is going to be but hopefully I will be able to post within the first day or so.

I now leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller. This is from the prologue of his book "Through Painted Deserts". A book that chronicles his cross country trip in a VW Van with a good friend.
[warning: this blog will probably include many book quotes, I love to read and many times others words more fully express what I am feeling]

"I want to repeat one word for you:
leave.
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed."

Now I am doing the one thing I have never wanted to do or expected to do. I am leaving.

and I could not be more excited!