Sunday, July 20, 2008

All Five Senses

It's one thing to look at a picture, or hear a story. You're able to connect, at least on some level, with your senses. Whether it be your eyes seeing something beyond comprehension, or your hand touching something unfamiliar, or uncomfortable. However, the remarkable happens... when one is able to fully engage in something with all five of their senses. As lori said, Africa is a place where one can engage life with all five of their senses. And this was Africa to me. My senses were on overload, if you will. I saw things I never imagined, I felt the tiny hands of a baby orphan and had the tears of a widowed woman dying of AIDS fall down my neck... I tasted the culture and enjoyed the hospitality of a beautiful people, I smelled differences in appearance and in hygene and heard the laughter of contentment, the voices of children singing, "wel-o-come to our visitors..." and I was captivated.

To be perfectly honest... I do not easily adapt. Though raised in a family that traveled... I think that change is something I have grown to dislike. =) On each of my previous trips, I had a moment of intense culture shock in which I adamantly longed to find myself in the conforts of home. However, this was not the case in Uganda. I felt safe, comfortable, and content. I loved the dirt, the chaos, the bright colors, and curious glances. I loved the dancing, the hugging, the immense joy that exuded from even the loneliest of souls. I treasured the prayers, and was amazed at the talent... and was so broken to leave. Though happy to be home... a piece of me truly was left in the little village of Iganga and with the people of Wiraika.

As I settle into reverse culture shock, I am amazed that it was all real. It already appears as a snapshot in my mind. I write this to say that this trip is not over. I cannot stay silent about the things I have seen, what I have heard, the strange things I smelled, the tastes of africa that are still left in my mouth, and the touch of the widows and orphans.... and so I remind you... that religion that is pure... is to visit widows and orphans (James 1:27). Do not miss out on it! =)

I cannot go back to who I was before this trip... as that perspective has been shattered. So gear up... i've got something to say... and I won't stop sharing. =)

Rebecca, 25

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fell Silent

There was a moment on this trip when the world stopped spinning, heaven stood silent and I beleive the angels were appalled. A young women was sharing how her father had just died from AIDS and she was infected herself. Before finishing her story, she broke into a puddle of tears. In that moment, I wondered how anyone could sit silent, remain unmotivated and choose disobedience over action. As I sat with her in my arms, her tears falling on my neck, I knew the heavens were quiet. I knew in that moment that every step it took to be here was worth it. And for me this is just the begining.

Rebecca 25, Hillcrest Church Team Leader


On our first day, Jeremiah and I taught a class at the orphanage. Very quickly, I noticed one girl, Ruth, had a big open sore on her ankle with flies constantly on it. It broke my heart that she was unable to do anything about her wound. I realize now that through this whole trip I have been very affective by everything medically wrong... I am deeply affected by the lack of health care. Latter Ruth and I formed a relationship and she has became my friend. These kids are so strong.

Julie 18, Hillcrest


The things I've seen you could never truly understand unless you've been there and experienced it. But my one snapshot from this trip that I'll try to put into perspective is the time I spent in the oprhanage. When you first arrive you are in awe of the vast diffeences in culture and lifestyles. Being an American, one would think the people and kids would be in terrible shape
emotionally becuase of these differences. But its not true. They are joyful and seem to find contentment in their lives. And when their faces light up and they yell "Mzungu", it gives you a feeling I can't explain becuase happy isn't good enough. Just when you don't think you can feel better the kids run to you, just to say hello and hold your hand. But there are hard parts in every situation and thats saying goodbye. You've been spending a week spending time and gettting to know these kids. Getting close to them and sharing who you are with them, and the relationship you've built has to be put on hold, until you return, if you return.

Ted, 16, Hillcrest Church


Hey Everyone,

I know I've waited long enough to send out this first update, but things have been really busy around here. :) Our first volunteer team of the summer has already come and go. The Archer City team was here for a little over a week working with Orphans Rescue Ministry (ORM), one of our grass-roots organizations in Kampala, Uganda, as well as Grace Ministries, also in Kampala. While at ORM, they clothed around 75 kids with 2 t-shirts and/or a dress or shorts, had each child fitted for a new pair of shoes, and provided a refridgerator for the feeding program that they started last year. I am happy to say that the kids are looking much better and happier each time we visit them due to the generosity of this team.

While at Grace Ministries, the Archer City team went out to Buganga, a remote village past the equator, which consists mainly of widows and orphans. Like last year, the team provided food for basically the entire village, as well as about 15 pastors from the remote areas surrounding Buganga. This year, they provided about twice the amount of food, and blessed the outlying elderly and widows who are unable to walk the several kms to the church building.

Before the team left the States, a man and musician who wishes to remain anonymous, donated one of his best guitars to Grace, knowing that instruments are needed in this village. This was not just any guitar, but among his very best. Once we arrived in Buganga and presented the guitar to the worship leader, we learned that he had just sold his only guitar to pay for his children's school fees. He was elated to receive a much, much nicer guitar in place of the one he sacrificed for his children.

On their last day in Uganda, the team enjoyed an ATV (all terrain vehicle) safari which took them down by the River Nile and through some remote villages. Everyone had a blast driving their own ATV as they experienced a new part of Uganda. As the children heard the ATV's, they flocked to the roadside to yell, "Mzungu!! How are you?!" Mzungu is the Luganda word for "white person or European." It's not meant derogatorily, but I find myself wanting to reiterate the sentiment we so often see on t-shirts that says, "My name is not Mzungu." :)

We are now in Jinja with a new volunteer team. I'll write more about them at a later time. I think this is enough for one email. :)

I hope you all are doing well and thank you for your support!

Vanessa, Fount of Mercy

They Have Captured My Heart

Jambo! This trip has been unbelivable. The intensity of the extreme poverty surrounding us has been unlike anything i can put into words. Honestly... this journey has left me speechless. As one of our leaders with Fount of Mercy puts it... I have experienced Uganda with all five of my senses... this inculdes seeing, feeling, touching, hearing, and smelling the poor, the broken, the widowed, the orphans.... the lost. It has been more than i can bare at times.

On a team note:

The youth are doing an amazing job. They have engaged these kids... and as Jack put it last night... "Can we stay for a month?" I loved it... it revealed that these students have long forgotten their ipods, they have forgotten hot showers and familiar foods... and they have only eyes for the orphaned kids they've bonded with. They have kids hanging on them from the minute we pull up to the orphanage to the second they leave... and even then, the kiddos are chasing them down the road. Julie has connected with a little one called Rita, Teddy with Moses.... Kendal loves little Winnie, and Jack... Marium. =) On our first day, one of the oprhans Daphne came down with Malaria and our team agreed that we could afford to take some of our support raised and buy her some medicine. It took $10.00 to see her get well. The following day as we arrived to the orphanage, Kendal discovered that her little firend Winnie had also come down with malaria. Good thing we had purchased 5 doses of medicine. =) It was amazing to see in an instant that money and resources was being put to life-changing and life-saving use. I know... at that moment... something changed in my youth team.

We definitely come back exhausted each day... but no complaints. Not one. After the first day of strange smells, dirty living, and different food... these students have come forth shining. It is unbelievable to see them truly serve... with no looking back.

On a Rebecca note:

Yesterday, as the youth and Dana, Jeremiah, and Jon played with the kids.... I had the opportunity to join one of Fount of Mercy's leaders and share with 15 or so widows in the village of Iganga. This moment forever has changed me. What I thought would be an hour of time with these women, turned into four hours of learning who they were, hearing their stories... and briefly sharing mine. They danced with me (seriously... best moment in my life...) and embraced me as one of them. I have never smiled so much and laughed so much. These widows... they have captured my heart. I had a million thoughts running through my head as they shared their husbands died of cancer, aids, war, etc.... and they were left caring for 8, 9, or 10 children... sometimes taking on their brother's kids, or their siblings as well. I was overwhelmed by their journeys and impressed by their strength. I was humbled at how grateful they were to be given a bar of soap and a kilo of sugar. As I handed out these "gifts of encouragement"... they kneeled at my feel in thankfulness. Ah.... I am a changed person. I have so many stories and much to reflect on. It may take me years to unpack the last 5 days.

In closing the Ugandan people are beautiful. They carry themselves with grace and soft spoken mannerisms. They are friendly... undeniably patient... and strength carries their burdens. They are a giving people... and though they have seen much trial and deep pain.. their straight posture and their firm steps reveal their passion for living.

Under grace, Rebecca, Team Leader for the Hillcrest Youth Team

Spontaneous Celebration

We are currently working with our second volunteer team (a youth group) out here in Uganda. Yesterday, we all had a really special day- most of the team was having a blast working with the children at Hope Home school in a village called Bulubandi. As for me and the youth group leader, Rebecca, we were with the sewing and tailoring group that is intended for widows in the community. We were spending the day with them hoping to give them encouragement in some form. The class began with us watching them work - all of the women gathered around and worked on creating a dress, a skirt and a blouse together. They also told us how they were the designers in their community - this statement came as a fact and with such pride, I would have done just about anything to affirm them in their work.

After their class, Rebecca and I heard their stories and and encouraged them. We learned that many of these women had lost their husbands and were struggling to raise several (around 6-8 children - one woman said 11) children. No matter what hardship a woman had to share though, she always began with praise and thankfulness - they were encouraging me! After we finished sharing, Rebecca and I gave out sugar and a bar of soap to each woman. This is a relatively small gift, but they were so grateful that they sang and danced with us for about an hour. It was such a wonderful spontaneous celebration - you couldn't help but be joyful. Their smiles will be with me forever.

Lori Acton, Fount of Mercy

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gift of Tears

Good morning!

Its 8:00 am here and just beautiful! We had a good rain last night. The thunder was so loud. I have never heard it as loud and it just echoed through the hills and valleys! It was tremendous. I have so much to tell you all, but want to tell you first what has been happening in my own heart.

Africa is like no where you can ever imagine. It’s a beautiful country, tropical like Mexico, green and luscious; the possibilities are endless except there are not the resources to develop it like in other places. There is no cement, everything is dirt. When I go home in the evening to shower and dry off, the towel is still dirty. It seems you never get it all off. I feel like I could blend in with the natives in time! There is burning always everywhere and the smoke of the burning stings your nose. It was the most memberable smell from last year and yet the stinging doesn’t bother me. Pollution is so bad. When you blow your nose it’s black from all you breathe in. In spite of all that, I have had no problems with my asthma.

I have been praying for some time for the gift of tears. I feel like I have lost touch with so many things and even worried about things like my memory. My heart has become hardened and callous. Since I have been here, I have found that I can’t stop crying. They say tears are a silent language, and for me I believe they are healing. I have found that when I talk to people here, I remember their stories and problems. I am so busy at home in the states; so much of it is that, just busy. We are like ants in the ant farm, always moving about and looking for things to do. The easier we make life, the more we find to do to occupy our time. We tend to focus first on our own needs and somehow miss the needs of others. People talk to me and then I don’t remember their needs the next time I see them. I realize it’s not my memory; it’s just that my brain is on overload!! I think I am in defrag mode here. I don’t have to worry about clothes, or makeup, or a car, or house. These are all part of our life and I can’t come home and ignore it all. It’s western civilization. But I am learning that I worry about so much that is unnecessary! The people here have nothing and I mean nothing. And yet, they are content and joyful and happy!
So as I see the enormous needs of the people here, food, water and shelter, and then mine seem so insignificant. Anyway, I thank God for this insight and pray when I return I can hang on to just a shred of it!

Yesterday we went to the village Buganga. It was where we fed the people last year and helped the old man who lost his house. We had a glorious time with them and distributed 1300 pounds of food! Over 200 dresses and about 75 t -shirts and shorts. Today we will go back and our pastor will be teaching a seminar to pastors who will travel by bike and foot, some for days, others for miles to hear the teaching and words of encouragement. We have a surprise for them! We have purchased study bibles for the pastors, and 12 bicycles for the most needy! It will be such a joy to see them receive the gifts. This will enable them to minister in places we can’t begin to imagine! It definitely is more blessed to give than receive. I wish you all could experience it.

We will go to the huts of the older people in the village and the sick today and bring them their portion of food and encourage them. We had an encouragement service yesterday for the sick. I can’t even begin to tell you of the problems here. But one that was so painful was a womann who was pregnant and the baby died about 5 years ago. She never passed it and she still looks like she is about 8 months pregnant. They say the baby calcifies in the body after so long and now to remove it would kill her, because the calcification attaches itself to other organs. Only if she could have had it removed at the time of death! But if you can’t clothe yourself or buy food, health care is definitely not a possibility. We began treatment on a child at the orphanage for malaria as well. We are hoping to hear of her progress, if she doesn’t get well in a few days, we will need to get her to a doctor. It’s overwhelming to see and hear of all the needs. We can’t begin to meet them all. Not even a fraction. But I thank God for all he is allowing us to do.

Kathleen and Bill, First Baptist Archer City

Sunday, July 6, 2008

So Much Good in One Year!

Hello everyone! There is so much to tell. I love Africa so much. For some reason it just feels right when I get here. I know it's where I am meant to be and already am thinking about next year.

We have spent the last 2 days at the orphanage and also doing a lot of shopping and getting the things we need. Today we had a refrigerator delivered and everyone was so excited. The kids have made a remarkable amount of progress. Last year we brought over 2 sewing machines. They have a tailor that comes in and teaches the girls sewing and they actually are doing an excellent job. Some things are made of fabric, others of empty cement bags! It seems that they may actually have a contract in the next year to make school uniforms! This is so good because it means it will bring money in to help with support. It is amazing to see how much they have learned. The feeding program is also doing well. The children all are so healthy looking and all smiles! I have gotten so many hugs and love from the kids. I just love it! Hopefully as each girl graduates we can get a sewing machine to her a gift. Then she can make a living with it.

Tomorrow we will be teaching the girls that are older how to make cookies. They in turn will teach the younger girls. This will be another means of support for them. They will be able to sell the cookies as well. We are going to start working on child sponsorship. This would mean that someone will sponsor the child one on one. There are about 50 children that are not in school. It cost to be educated here. The amount varies from about $50 a month to maybe a hundred if they are a full time boarding student.

We have one boy from last year who is being sponsored now by a good friend of mine. His name is Peter. His was a special case and a sad story. But we now have him as a boarding student. Last year he would not let me even hug him. This year he came up to me and gave me a hug and had tears in his eyes!!! He is such a good boy. He is 12 or 13, never been to school but now is in 2nd grade. He is beginning to speak English and smiles all the time!!!

I will tell more later about him and all the children. Tomorrow we also will be painting the girls fingernails! It will be a first for them. The shoe store will be coming out and measuring each child’s foot and we will purchase new shoes for each child! Clothes will be distributed and shoes given and it will be our last day with them. I will take more pictures and share them when I return.

One of the main goals of our mission is to help these children become self supportive, by teaching them skills they can use to maintain life. It seems as if we are making progress.

I almost forgot! We work with a village in the bush and last year there were about 9 or so pastors that traveled more than 10 miles on foot and bicycle to attend a pastoral training seminar. They wanted to learn form our Pastor as he did a teaching session with an interpreter. This year we will be blessing them not only with food like we did last year (we fed the entire village with a food distribution for about $300.00) but with 12 brand new bicycles so they can in turn go out and minister to others! We also will be bringing clothes this year and having suits made for about 7 pastors.

Kathleen and Bill, First Baptist Archer City