Thursday, July 29, 2010

Time for goodbyes

The closer it gets to this Monday the more I'm realizing that I'm going to miss this place. I'm not exactly a person who gets nostalgic and gets sad about saying goodbyes, but it's a little bit different when you're quite certain that you won't ever meet these people again on this side of eternity. We haven't started our goodbyes yet, but I'm already dreading it. I have a feeling that when I get home and start to get back to normal life, where everything is still happening here and I'm not doing ministry at home like I am here that I will very easily feel discontent. But all we can do is pray for God's guidance from day to day to know what to do with this experience.

Anna and Judith (our cooks) said the other day that they were feel "much pain" when we leave. Then Judith told me that she wanted me to find her a job in the US. She said she was serious, and wanted to make sure I really would. I didn't know how to respond. It's not that it's a real possibility anyway because it's incredibly hard for an African to get a visa to the US. But she realizes how much more money we make there and that she would be able to provide for her kids and send them to school. I felt that gap between us again. I wish I could take her with me and show her the US, give her money to provide for her children, but that's not the answer. I want them to know that the way people live in the US is not the "right" way to live. We are dying spiritually because of our lifestyles while they have so much life. It just bothers me that people think that our country is a place of deliverance from all problems, where things are like they should be. It's not. The answer is not to help everyone live like us. We're the ones who have it wrong; not caring for our neighbor, living for comfort and success, and always trying to make a name for ourselves. I understand that this is not true in all cases, but our culture probably has more spiritual challenges than theirs.

I'll try to write once we get back to Kampala, but this is probably my last post from Arua. Please pray for us as we are saying goodbye to our friends and trying to figure out what to do with all the things we want to leave behind. It's not as simple as giving it away...cultural dynamics are too communal, so we want to be sensitive to that. Thanks so much for your support in prayer!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning to be patient

This past week was frustrating, but an interesting challenge to all of us. First, we went to Aringa parish, up north near the Sudanese border. The area is 90 percent Muslim, 5 percent Catholic, and only about 2 percent Protestant. We only went for a few hours, and weren't scheduled to teach there, but we got to sit and talk with a few of the leaders of the ministries there and hear about what they do.

I wish I could type all that he said, but suffice it to say that it is quite obvious that I am such a baby in my faith compared to these people. As he was talking, I could hear the difference in the way he spoke of God, and how much trust and confidence he put in Him. He said, "To do ministry here, you have to fear neither life nor death. To die is to go straight to Christ, and to live is to serve." They're in the process of translating the Bible into Aringa, so we went to see their program office, which is sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators. We went to the home where 2 AIM missionaries were wounded, and were about a kilometer from where 2 were killed a couple years ago. Because of this, they haven't sent many groups up there to minister to those people, but this is exactly where the church needs strengthened the most. Many of the people can't read or write, and they need more teaching and encouragement. Seems to me that Paul and the early church would be going there, but to be quite honest, I don't know if I am in the place where I would be willing to go.

The past couple of days have been very frustrating because of problems with transportation. Vehicles are less than reliable here, and it's not as if we can just take someone else's car. So on Saturday we left our house at 3:30pm, about 8 hours late. We got to Vurra and taught the people who had not gone home already. The next day we woke up at 7 to wait another 4 hours until the car was jumpstarted and we could leave for the secondary school. Then we waited another 2 hours for the program to start. Needless to say, this was very trying on my nerves and in my frustration, I had many thoughts and reactions that definitely were not pleasing to the Lord.

Ministry for us here just looks much different than it does at home. At home, I am used to having to humble myself to serve by cleaning up after people, doing laundry for my parents, loving the person that gets on my nerves the most, or helping with a church event when maybe I'd rather sleep. But here, serving looks more like being willing to be treated as an important person you're not; to eat the goat's meat, greet people at 6:30 in the morning when you just woke up, let the 50 children gathered around to stare at you constantly, or continue smiling when you're being "officially greeted" for the 4th time. It takes patience and strength that I have to pray for each day, and sometimes I miserably fail. But we realized yesterday that we have been able to speak to over 10,000 Ugandans, and that is definitely no small opportunity. Please pray that God continues to strengthen and use us this last week, as going home becomes more and more of a reality.

Can't wait to see you all soon!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I...can't think of a title.

The rest of yesterday was actually really good. We went to a university where we ended up having some extra time just talking to students. I talked to 3 ladies studying business administration and heard their stories. It was a pretty good conversation, and I think I encouraged them a little bit, Lord willing. haha. Then we went to Kuluva hospital. We thought we were going to pray with all the patients, but ended speaking to the nursing students there. It wasn't what we expected, but seemed well-received, and they asked good questions. Then we went through the wards and prayed in each building with the chaplain there. The hospital was clean enough, but the equipment was all totally outdated, the mattresses were torn and the sheets were dirty, and families were sitting on the floor with their babies, all kinds of stuff like that. The incubators for the premies looked like bread boxes with heating lamps in them.That was the only place I really cried. They didn't take us to the malnutrition ward because the last white people they took in there fainted. I wish I could have seen it, just to feel their suffering for once. For some reason God didn't have it in his will...

It's getting difficult to be here for so long, for other reasons than just being away from Shawn and my family...and Kerry, haha. Less things shock me or make me cry, but the reality of daily life of these people just sinks in more and more. We had to walk 20 minutes one way just to buy pork with Judith today, and I was hungry and thinking about the big lunch we were eating when we got back. Then on the way there we saw kids in the guava trees eating unripened fruit during their lunch break at school because they had nothing at home to eat. Nothing in my life will ever compare to what they've gone through. Nothing is convenient or easy here, and hunger is part of normal life that never goes away. I've never been hungry for more than a couple hours in my life, and I can't imagine not being able to just eat whenever I want. But my FRIENDS do that all the time. I just don't know what to do about it. It's so overwhelming. When I get back, my friends here are still suffering and they'll become a more and more distant memory as time goes on. We wouldn't let our neighbors live this way in the US, but who is our neighbor when the world is so small these days?

If there's anything I've learned during my time here, it's that the world really IS broken, and our real hope is in Heaven. Not in good insurance, a nice home, a good job market, whatever. As believers, we are the ones who are called to fix this broken place. That's what it means for us to be make things more of what God would have them be, no matter what field in which we work. It's just that the world I live does not seem to be that messed up, and there's a serious problem with that...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just some facts

So since we’ve been doing a lot of the same things, maybe I’ll take it a little easy this time and just talk about some fun things that we’ve been seeing and experiencing together. We’re getting to appreciate some of the finer points of the culture while we’re here and soaking in African life as much as possible.

People wake up so early in the morning and go to bed so late at night here. When we stay in the villages, we get to stay with our wonderful Ugandan friends. The morning usually starts with a prayer spoken out-loud around 6:30. Leviticus likes to thank God for another day and covers it with the blood of Jesus before starting it off. Then they sing or hum away while they’re laying in their bed, until they’ve made sure they have a few others humming along. When others are awake, conversation ensues, whether there are other people are awake or not. If that’s not enough to shake you out of your sleep, the roosters start crowing, and sometimes they play large drums or crank up the radio around 7. So in short, sleep isn’t really as valued as it is at home.

Public indecency doesn’t really seem to be an issue either. I’ve lost count of how many naked babies and children I’ve seen, and sometimes people just walk around public areas in towels. Women breast feed anywhere and everywhere. When I asked my friend about this she said, oh it’s just natural. Nobody really pays attention.

Little creatures also grace our presence on a fairly regular basis. Cockroaches crowd the bathrooms, and Kari and I often visit the latrine together and put one on cockroach-scaring duty. Yes, I could use the bathroom pretty much anywhere at this point. Lizards chirp above our heads at night and jump out beneath your feet when you walk through the yard. Then we have our furry little (and not-so-little) friends. Last time I was in a hut for the night, a little one ran across my shoulder during the night. Good thing is was through the mosquito net! We’ve had a furry friend living above our heads at the Cassel’s home since we’ve been here. He made a great appearance on the top of Kevin’s door last night, then ran to the bathroom, which sent me and Kari screaming to the nearest chair we could stand on.

Life is hard here. Cooking one meal can take over 2 hours, and washing laundry is a full day. Kari and I run away when they grab the knife to sacrifice the chicken, but it’s just part of a long process that could take hours. I hope that I don’t ever take for granted the leisure and ease of my life. Some may say that life is more simple here, but it takes way more determination and strength to make it through a single day than we could ever understand at home.

Just a few things we’re seeing here. 2 more weeks! Going to make the most of it, Lord willing.

A day from the USA (July 15th)

Today has been an interesting day. We had evaluation time with Leviticus and James this morning, then went to eat at the nicest hotel in town. It was so different to see things from the Mundo side of Arua, where everything is nice and clean and fancy. All 6 of us had a big lunch, complete with pizza, burgers and fries, milkshakes, and real brewed coffee...all for 40 bucks. Not too bad for the most expensive place in town. But it was nice to talk with Karen, the director of missions for the central region of AIM about how things are going, what we're learning, etc. It was quite a breath of fresh air. We're now at the internet cafe where our friends here are making us pizza for free, just because they like us. It's interesting to see the relationships we're building here in the most random places.

Yesterday we ministered at Otravu secondary school, which had the most interesting dynamic we've seen so far. Everything was funny. Laughing during altar call, serious skits, and the praise songs really confused me. It was hard to keep their attention and it felt like nothing was getting through to them. Then we had a huge response at the end and got to pray with a ton of students. We finally started to understand this dynamic today when we found out that much of the student population was Catholic or Muslim, and that they often laugh to cover up their discomfort. That was really interesting to me, that we made them uncomfortable. I guess that that is a very common dynamic up north, where there is more Islamic influence from the Sudan.

It was also encouraging to hear from Karen why exactly they have made our program the way it is. Sometimes traveling and teaching doesn't seem like the most effective way to reach people. But she explained to us that we have the opportunity to reach a wider group if we do it this way, especially since spending all of our time in one archdeaconry may stir up jealously, rivalry, etc., and it's important that we let the diocese rise up as a group by spreading our influence. She also told us that fresh teaching is very hard to come by, because many of these remote areas have very little exposure to other teaching. Please pray for us, that we would be mindful of this, and only speak what the Lord has for us to say!Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. I miss and love you all and hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Half-way there

This last week was so busy with 2 over-night stays in a row. We spent the last two days in Terego; a church on Saturday and a school on Sunday. The church was very encouraging as we talked with many youth leaders and active youths within the church. They were engaged and asking great questions, and we got some great interaction with them. On the flip side, at the Secondary school we went to yesterday the students were less-than-enthusiastic. They were the most American-like students we've encountered...acting disinterested and unenthusiatic (no offense to interested and enthusiastic teens out there!). It was the first time I really struggled to love the audience and want them to get the message the Lord had for them, as my pride was a little overwhelming. But through prayer, God helped me to stay humble and He spoke through us.

God is still moving and working around us, in us, and through us. But it's getting a little difficult to teach the same things all the time and it not go on auto-pilot. It's very encouraging to know that we are where God wants us to be, but as the sights are getting familiar and cold showers and beans start to get tedious, the mind wants to wander toward home. Please pray for us, that we can keep our teaching fresh, and that we will keep open hearts and eyes to the people and places around us.

Money is the root of all kinds of evil. It has never been so apparent as it is here. I know I keep harping on this, but new things keep coming up which keep it at the front of my mind. It's frustrating to us for everyone around us to associate our skin color with money and power. Friends may not actually be friends, but just want to get to your resources. Even for the ones who are not overtly asking, it complicates the relationship between missionaries and the people they're ministering to. Many missionaries we've met here have nicer houses than any of the nationals, and build big walls with gates all around their home. What a barrier to real relationships! Why would one move to Africa to live at the same standard they do in the US?

At the same time, I have compassion and love for the folks who struggle to be real friends with us. If I had a good friend who was very rich and I was struggling to pay my bills, it would be in the back of my mind as well. So how do we get past this? How can we really minister to people spiritually, emotionally, and physically without the barrier created by money and power? Please pray for us, that we would be able to make real relationships that are fruitful for the kingdom while we're here.

Half-way done, and I can't believe how quickly, yet slowly time has gone. Just trying to soak it all in while I can...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another week...

Kind of crazy how fast time is going and how slowly at the same time. I'm starting to get used to the sights, smells, and rhythm of life here. The people continue to amaze me, as to how they endure so many trials and struggles, most of which we will never ever have to deal with. The past week we have continued to travel and teach at different churches, secondary, and primary schools. The topics we cover are The Story of God (Creation, fall, redemption, consummation), Living with Purpose, Growing into Christian Maturity, Leadership, and Boy-Girl Relationships. Sean also has a sermon about the Gospel, and we talk about the story of Joseph and temptation with the kids. Depending on the place and time slot we decide what to teach.

The biggest thing that I've been learning the past week is how many layers there are to the issue of poverty. The poverty here in Uganda is crushing. They are 100 years behind in various aspects of their lifestyle. We are sending money and aid to this area continually, but the issue is still not resolved, so....what's the real problem? There are so many economic infrastructures, social constructs, and personal psychological and emotional issues that contribute to poverty. It's totally overwhelming.

At Robu parish this past Tuesday I had the opportunity to pray with a group of women who shared with Kari and I about their lives at home. A few wanted prayer for their children, who have started to drink, do drugs, or are involved in spirit worship. Others wanted prayer for their husbands who were drunks, and they were trying to raise children on their own. Often the husbands have their own crops and don't share the profit or food with their families so the wives have to steal from their husbands and consequently the husbands don't trust their wives. The treatment of women here is decades behind women in the US. But the most amazing thing was that these women all asked for prayer that they would not become angry at their children or husbands, that they would be faithful to God in giving their burdens to him.

This is just one example of the hundreds of things I've seen the past week. So what should we do? Now that I've seen it, I hope I won't be able to live the same way ever again, but what would the Lord have Shawn and I do? And am I even being relevant with what I'm doing here? Questions that need time and prayer...