Friday, November 5, 2010

Me Vs. The Coral. Me - 0, Coral - 1.

The first week of October we all headed to Kenya. WorldVenture was having an East Africa Spiritual Renewal conference in Malindi and I for one was excited to be spiritually renewed. God and I had a lot to talk about and I was looking forward to the time set apart to do so.

We had planned to arrive early for the conference so that we would have a day to relax before the conference started. The tide had gone out leaving the coral exposed allowing us to be able to walk around on it. As we walked out onto the beach, a swarm of men came around us, each one wanting to show us all of the different kinds of fish in the tide pools. While they were at it, they also tried to convince us to pay lots of money and go on safaris and boat tours. I quickly realized that I had worn the wrong shoes for this, opting for my zero traction flip flops instead of my lots of traction sandals. The coral wasn’t extremely slippery but walking across it meant jumping over tide pools all on uneven ground. We left the one area of coral and headed down the beach, passing little shops selling scarves and jewelry. We saw a group of people on another part of coral and headed their way. Clearly, they were seeing something cool and we wanted to see it too.

When we joined the others, we saw that they were gathered around a starfish.

There were more Kenyan guides there wanting to show us everything. They brought us to a tide pool with a group of eels, which were creepy looking. I was glad to see them from above and not in the water. We walked on the coral from tide pool to tide pool, marveling over the unique creations of God. It was fascinating!

The guides called to us as they had spotted the illusive lionfish. The lionfish swam throughout the coral tunnels under the water with us going from tide pool to tide pool to keep up with him. I had never seen such a unique and beautiful fish in real life. I couldn’t get a good picture of him because he was so dang fast.

He had swum to another area and Hannah was able to get a good picture of him. I walked over to that tide pool, almost losing my balance at one point. Did I mention that walking on the coral was tricky and uneven, not to mention more difficult by avoiding the open tide pools? Ok, good.

I reached that tide pool and was trying to get a good picture of the lionfish before he swam away. The next thing I knew, I was sliding on the coral into the tide pool with the lionfish. Did I mention that lionfish are poisonous? Luckily, the lionfish swam away and I landed sitting on the coral with my legs in the water. Stunned, I stood up again, wondering what had happened to cause my slide. It was then that I saw that I had been scratched up in the process. My legs were apparently still in shock as the pain had yet to begin. I was feeling pretty dumb at this point.

And then the blood started.

On my first step, I realized that the fall had also broken my flip-flops. I took them off and walked gingerly on the rough coral.
Our Kenyan guides called us over wanting to show us “Nemo”. I told them that we needed to head back to the hotel to take care of my wounds. We walked carefully back over the coral until we got to the beach. I was concerned that sand would get in the scratches. My legs were stinging and my main concern was that we would have to climb a sand bank to get back up to the hotel. I managed it up the sand well and one of the hotel workers saw my wounds and guided us towards the first aid area. We waited for someone to come and I realized that my wounds were more extensive than what I first saw. Somehow, the coral scratches spiraled from my ankle all the way up my left leg. On my right leg, my calf was scratched from my ankle to my knee.

The hotel first aid guy came and unlocked the first aid box. He brought out iodine and started applying it to my wounds to clean them. Oh, that’s when the pain started. I’m not sure if you’ve ever put iodine on an open wound but suggestion, don’t. My roommate is a nurse and later stated that even in the Emergency Room, they delude the iodine, as straight iodine is too caustic. Tears filled my eyes as the cleaning continued.

It. Hurt.

The days after were filled with pain. It hurt to shower. It hurt to sit. It hurt to lay down. It hurt to do most things which cut out any future trips to the beach or swims to the pool. In ways, this was good. It forced me to have more time to focus on journaling and talking to God. It also allowed me to have good conversations with fellow missionaries there.

(this is me trying to be positive…is it working?)

Healing took awhile and even now, almost a month later, you can still see the scars. I’m hoping those eventually go away. Until then, from now on, I’ll be reealllly careful about walking on coral. You be careful too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Miracles: Big and Small: The Computer Miracle

There are some things that happen that can only be ascribed to God. Last month, one of those situations happened. For months, the charger in my computer had been on and off working. Also, my battery hadn’t seemed to be fitting right. One morning, I woke up to a dead computer because my charger just hadn’t charged all night. That was the start of it all. The timing of everything was impossible but alas, through God, nothing is impossible. I’m putting dates in so that you can see all that happened and the timing of it.

Monday, August 9:
I updated my Twitter at 7:45am:” I think my computer charger bit the dust overnight. Woke up to a dead computer. Um…what to do?”
At 8:15am, my friend Matt, who happens to work at an Apple Store, responded and asked about it. At the time, I thought it was just my charger that needed replacing. That afternoon, Matt happened to be online and we chatted about my computer woes. I told him how my charger sometimes wouldn’t charge when I plugged it in. I offhandedly mentioned how my battery seemed to not be fitting right. When he realized that it wasn’t because of it not being in correctly, he asked if it was bulging. Ah, bulging! Yes, that was the word I had been looking for. It was bulging. When Matt realized that, he got concerned and explained that though most batteries work great, there’s the 1% that are bad. If they’re bulging, they have the potential to explode and ruin the entire charging system. He explained that the situation was urgent.

Tuesday, August 10:
That morning, a woman dropped off a package at the office to send with a woman back to the States. I didn’t know the woman that would be coming other than that her name was Sara.

My battery had been bulging for months. This is probably why I was in such shock that my computer needed repair…and fast. In another conversation with Matt, he expressed that I needed to get the computer back to the States for repair as soon as possible. He meant days, not weeks. Depending on how bad it was, the repair could take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. I panicked. I didn’t know anyone going back to the States anytime soon and even if it got there, how was it going to come back? I remembered the lady that was going to be coming to pick up the box but I couldn’t just ask a stranger to add a computer to her carry on and ship my computer to Matt. Well, until it became my only option.

I knew that I had to hand over all control to God. He’s in the details…right?

Wednesday, August 11:
That day, I turned off my computer and handed my most valuable possession to strangers. Sounds weird, I know. I had talked to Sara on the phone and she so graciously agreed to take my computer and ship it to Matt. Such a huge answer to prayer! She sent some friends to pick it up. It was weird handing my computer over, not knowing how long it would be until I saw it again.

Thursday, August 12-Friday, August 13:
Sara flew out of Uganda and reached Oregon on Friday.

Monday, August 16:
Sara ships my computer to Matt in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, August 18:
Matt receives my computer.

Thursday, August 19-Saturday, August 21:
Matt took my computer in to get fixed. Luckily, my charging system was not affected. Because of this, the repair didn’t take two weeks but two days. They replaced my: charger, battery, top case, touch pad and I feel like something else too. Matt installed the latest software on my computer as well as backing up everything for me and then putting everything back on my computer. He also set up everything on my computer so that literally, when I received it back, all I needed to do was turn it on and all was set up.

Monday, August 23:
Matt ships my computer to Ned and Karen in New York.

Wednesday, August 25:
Ned and Karen receive my computer.

Thursday, August 26:
Early that morning, Karen boarded a flight to Uganda.

Friday, August 27:
Karen was coming with a team to Uganda, Most of the team was staying in a location in Kampala that was about an hour away from my house. However, Karen and two others were staying on my compound, three houses down from me. Friday morning, I walked down to the house and got my computer back.

Literally, there’s no way that this could have happened any faster. If one thing would have gone wrong, it wouldn't have worked out. God was in every single detail and it was stunning to see Him work so meticulously. In the missionary world, we’re used to things not going right and everything taking a LOT longer than expected. I was without my computer for 16 days as it went from Uganda to Oregon to Wisconsin to New York and then back to Uganda. That’s just unreal. That’s just God.

I often forget how detailed God is. It’s such a reminder that though He is the Big Almighty Creator and Savior, He’s also my Abba who cares for every detail in my life. I needed that reminder.

Huge thanks goes to Sara, Matt and Karen. Without each of their willingness, none of this could have happened. It required sacrifice for each one of them (especially Matt, who spent hours and hours working on my baby). You were all a part of God’s story and through that, showed me more about our Abba. I pray that each of you were able to see His work as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Blown Out: The Bombings in Kampala

It is interesting to write this entry on September 11th. This date is associated with terrorism and now, July 11th is as well. The following is what the day of and after the bombings was like for me as well as some extras.

July 11, 2010
My friend Mary was in town and we joined another group that went to Ndere Dancers, a show that highlights the different tribal dances around Uganda. I had been wanting to go for awhile and Mary coming gave the perfect opportunity. We had a fun night watching all the dancing. The World Cup final was on that night and they were hurrying to finish so that people could watch it. They were even showing it at the place if people wanted to stay. I was almost tempted. I REALLY wanted to watch it and we don’t have a TV at our house. We drove back home. It was about 9:30-10:00pm. The rugby club is a place we pass daily as it is on our way home. We passed it that night. Inside were hundreds of people watching the World Cup final. An hour later, two bombs went off killing many.

July 12, 2010.
5:50am: my alarm went off. I quickly turned off the annoying sound. It was still dark outside. I changed into my work out clothes as Kate and I were going to go running. As I was about to walk out of my room, Kate knocked.

“I just talked with Catharine…there’s been a bombing…”

“…a WHAT?” I interrupted. “Here!? A BOMB? Like, a BOMB? Who would bomb here!?” I couldn’t believe it. We’re in Uganda, not Iraq or Afghanistan.

Kate went on to explain that they didn’t know yet who was responsible. Since we drive to a certain area of town to run, we would be driving right by one of the bombsites. Catharine thought it’d be safe for us to still go but Kate and I decided to play it safe and stay home.

My mind wouldn’t stop going. The rugby club that two bombs went off is extremely close to our church and the Hope Alive! site. It’s also very close to many of our friends and students. Since it was the last game of the World Cup, it would be no surprise if many people we knew were there. There was another bomb at an Ethiopian restaurant about 15 minutes away from our house.

It was a waiting game to find out more details. Until I knew more, I had to tell Mary, my friend and visitor, what was going on. Clearly, we always want our visitors to have a good time and have nothing bad happen to them and it’s the same here. At the time, details were so scarce that I didn’t feel as though there was anything for us to be scared for our own personal safety. It’s hard to convey that though.

We went to work that morning, passing a man selling newspapers with a gory picture of the dead on front. Our route to work passed the rugby club. Traffic was insane. People were standing around watching the police presence that surrounded the area. There are walls around the rugby club so you’re not able to ever see in. That was a really good thing that morning. It was crazy to think what happened there the night before.

We got to work in time for our Monday staff meeting. It was there that we discovered that we had friends that were there. Shammah, my dear friend who is a Hope Alive! mentor and helps lead the girls Bible study with me, was there rooting for Spain. She was with two of our friends. She still came to our meeting that morning. It was crazy to hear her first hand account. They were two rows away from those that were killed. Two rows. The things they saw that night can never be forgotten. One of our Hope Alive! girls who also comes to the Bible study was there. Molly and her sister went to watch the game. Her sister was one of the dead. I haven’t seen Molly since (which, if any of my Ugandan friends are reading this, have you talked with her? I literally haven’t seen her since)

After the bombings, security was extremely tight. To this day, I can’t get into some grocery stores without my car and purse being searched, sometimes being wanded down. Rumors were flying everywhere about other bombs being found in neighborhoods, homes, schools and more. Luckily, none of those ended up being true. Security has lessened over the last few months but the presence of police is still everywhere.

The media coverage here was a culture shock in its own. While in the States, the media often won't take gory pictures of the dead, but here there is no filter. There are many pictures that remain in my mind due to the lack of filter amongst newspapers here. There was a picture of a man going through the pockets of one of the dead. That's apparently a common practice. Can you imagine? It must have been difficult to identify the dead with all of their wallets missing. There are others that I won't mention so that you won't have those mental images. Too much. The media coverage from outside was another factor. It was amazing the amount of misinformation that had come out. My mom e-mailed me at one point with concern that they were targeting Americans. I really don't know where that came from since both of the attacks were at places where Ugandans hang out. If they had wanted to attack Americans, there are definitely places and times that would have been more conducive for that. But, they didn't. They knew who they wanted to hurt and it wasn't foreigners.

I wondered if it was all too surreal for me or if I was just trying to put on a good face for Mary. However, I don’t think it was either of those. Truly, there wasn’t a time where I felt unsafe. I knew that Americans weren’t the target (no matter what was told in the American press) and the military presence after the attacks was so intense that I felt protected. I also firmly believe that my life is not in my hands but in the hands of my Lord, my Protector. And it still is.

Please pray for Uganda. Pray for no other attacks to occur. Pray for the families and friends of those that died. Pray for the injured that are still recovering. Pray for those that were there that can’t erase the memories. Pray for God to be clearly seen, for people to draw closer to Him and to see their need for a relationship with Him.

*Note: Some of my specifics of the bombing may be off, especially about timing. My memory is hazy of what time they went off and my internet isn’t working well enough to research the exact details.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mary's Visit; My Perspective

What? You thought that I had shut down my blog since I haven’t written in forever? I KNOW! While I clearly haven’t been the most consistent blogger, this has been a particularly long absence. I have a reason though! My dear friend Mary was here in July for three weeks, life was crazy and then, my computer was back in the States for repair for three weeks. I’ll be splitting those two up in two blogs. I’m such a tease, I know.

Mary flew into Kampala on the year anniversary of my arrival here. It was fun to go to the airport on that same day, reminiscing of when I flew in. We spent the first week of Mary being here in Kampala. It was filled with trips to various markets, exploring downtown Kampala, Saturday club with the kids, church at our church, tutoring kids and more. She also led a seminar to our tutoring teachers about methods of teaching.

We headed up to Gulu after that for Mary to do another tutoring training plus for our Hope Alive! Senior Staff meetings. That Saturday, we went to the Saturday Club in Gulu. One of my favorite things about Hope Alive! (I have many) is that it’s not cookie cutter. Not all of our sites look the same or do things the same way. Kampala, a huge massive city, will need to do things differently than Gulu, a small town where our kids are scattered in the surrounding small villages. I was excited for Mary to see the differences in the Gulu site and I was excited to be up there again. One of the harder parts of being in Gulu is the language barrier. While the kids in Kampala are pretty fluent in English, the kids in Gulu struggle. This came into play for me that day as I helped Shem, our site director, enroll some new kids.

My heart always breaks when I see new kids come into the project. I’ve now been a part of that process in Masaka, Kampala and Gulu. There’s a shyness and uncertainty that each of the kids have. They know their life is about to change. It’s incredible to see the before and after’s of this. I remember the first day of two of our kids in Kampala. They both had dressed in the nicest clothes they owned, which were close to rags. It’s been a joy to see them open up over these last few months. Their shyness has disappeared replaced by their beautiful personalities shining through.

With these new kids in Gulu, their life experiences were unreal. Since I was filling out the information sheet, with the help of a translator, I had to ask some questions that ended up being difficult. I had to ask who they were living with, if their parents were alive and if their parents had died, how they had died. For many, their fathers had died. Pain would fill their eyes as they shared how he had died. With each child, I would place my hand on their knee, look into their sad eyes and tell them how sorry I was. It was a small action but it was clear by each of their reactions that they had not received such sympathy in a long time. It was hard to keep my tears in.

After Saturday Club, Mary taught the tutoring teachers different methods of teaching. In the meantime, Shem informed me that his youngest sister just died. She was only 15. At that time, they said it was cerebral malaria and TB. Weeks after the burial, it came out that she was poisoned by a friend’s mother. As I had talked with the new students that day, I found out that poisoning was all too common.

The burial was going to be the next day with the rest of the Hope Alive! staff coming in the morning. I had yet to be to a burial but had heard a little about them. I knew that Mary and I were both in for a new cultural experience. We drove out to the middle of the bush, literally. We turned by these bushes in the middle of nowhere and ended up by these huts where the burial was taking place. There were no quiet tears of mourning but instead, loud wailing. It was an emotional service. Her classmates wailed throughout. Shem’s mother put on a strong face but the pain in her eyes could not be hidden. Deaths are indeed common here but that day I saw the heartache behind it firsthand.

The rest of our time in Gulu was spent visiting schools. There was a child headed household in particular that made their way into our hearts. I will save that story for another blog as I would hate to shorten it and this entry is already getting long enough.

We headed to Murchison Falls National Park after our time in Gulu. I had warned Mary that I’m one of those people that everything happens to. So, she was warned, right? I had set up a driver to take us to the park who could also take us on a game drive to see the animals after which would take us back to Kampala. It was a mess confirming who was taking us and in what vehicle. We ended up in a white van that looked as though it could shake apart at the next pothole. We arrived safely in Murchison Falls with all the van parts still on. Amazing. As we were waiting for a ferry to get across the Nile, a herd of elephants came within about 50 feet of us. It was amazing to watch them! Game drives start at dawn due to the activity of the animals at the early morning. However, the next morning, there was a problem with the van and we were unable to go on our game drive. Surprise, surprise. Instead, we went to the top of Murchison Falls and then on a boat ride on the Nile. Our main annoyance while there? Our shaky van had no AC and the front windows didn’t go up properly. That’d be fine and all if a certain tsetse fly didn’t exist. If you’re unsure of what a tsetse fly is, google it. Please. Because, if you do, you’ll understand what we experienced. I had heard that the tsetse fly bites hurt but had no idea how much until it happened numerous times on that trip. Holy. Cow. It was either suffer of heat stroke or get bitten by these torturous flies. Great options. We had a great game drive the next day as we watched a lioness and her three cubs wander around.

Back in Kampala, we had only a few days left of Mary’s trip. We visited some of our kids homes here and fell in love with Andrew and Joseph’s mom. She is taking care of I forget how many children that aren’t her own. The love of God flows through her. Through broken English and mainly Luganda, she expressed how God is her Provider all while insisting on serving us tea and mandazi.
On the day Mary left, I was determined that she experience Lake Victoria. We ate lunch in Entebbe, where the airport is, and then headed to the beach. I love having my toes in sand. With that last thing done, we headed to the airport.
It was so great to show Mary my life here. She met the people I love, went to my church, experienced how I get groceries and more. As much as I can tell people what my life is like here, it was great to have Mary live it with me. It was great to see her fall in love with the people here, just as I have. It was great to see God overflow her with love for the people of Uganda, just as He has in me.

Our God is so much bigger than all us and works His plan in our lives. I love seeing glimpses of it. In the three weeks that Mary was here, we were both able to see many many glimpses of our great God. To Him be the glory.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Miracles: Big and Small: The Bicycle Accident

Back in March, my roommate Kate went back to visit the States. Upon her return, Kacie and I went to pick her up at the airport. Since the airport is a good distance from our house and Kate was coming in at night, we opted to hire a driver to take us to and from the airport. Driving at night here is a completely different story than driving at night in the States. It’s extremely difficult. The roads are unlit and filled with people, bikes, motorcycles and cars all trying to manage their way around. It’s not fun. At all. We were glad to have someone else deal with all of that.

Our original driver called to say he could not make it so he was sending another driver. Our new driver, Matthew, arrived and we were off. We got into crazy traffic in town but at last managed our way through it. Traffic cleared up some once we were on the road to the airport. I noted Matthew was driving pretty fast and almost commented to him that we had plenty of time so he could slow down. Not that it would have changed anything.

I noticed a bicyclist come along the side of the car. What happened next plays and rewinds in my mind numerous times a day.
The bicyclist turned into our lane wanting to cross the road to get to the other side. It was like in slow motion.
As I saw him turn, thoughts went racing in my mind: “Oh no, what is he doing? We need to slow down. We’re going to hit him.”
Words wanted to come out of my mouth but it just all happened too quickly.


We hit the bike and the bicyclist disappeared.

BAM. The bicyclist slams onto the hood.

CRASH. He slides into the windshield.

SQUEAL. The car is still trying to stop. The bicyclist slides off the car.

THUD. We drive over something. I think it’s the bicyclist.

At last, we’re stopped. I’m covered in shards of glass from the windshield. The bicyclist is nowhere in site and I figure we had driven over him. I’m shaking. I have no idea what to do.

Chaos began.

As fast as the accident happened, our car was surrounded. People were all around us, yelling in different languages. I looked to our driver to tell us what to do. He had his head in his hands. Kacie, sitting in the back seat, started repeatedly telling me to call our business manager, Robert. Shaking and in shock, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t figure out why we needed to call him and I just wanted to hide.

In the meantime, the bicyclist stood up, blood dripping down his face. We had driven over his bicycle, not him. I was so relieved he was alive. At the speed we were going, I don’t know how he survived. The driver moved from the road to the side of the road. We were panicking as he did so, worrying that another accident would occur since there was zero visibility out of the smashed windshield. We safely got to the side of the road. The mob of people followed us and it seemed as though the yelling was getting even louder. A random man approached the driver side and told our driver that he could take us the rest of the way. I had no idea if we could trust this random man and I found it really shady. I tried to call Robert. I could barely hear over the yelling, was completely confused by the random man telling us to go with him, our driver telling us to go with him and unable to stop shaking and get out of shock. Robert answered his phone. All I could muster was a noise. I wanted to break down in sobs. I wanted to get out. I wanted to be safe. I couldn’t express anything in that moment. While attempting to communicate with Robert, Kacie was on the phone with our boss Catharine who told us to go with the random man and to get out of the situation as soon as possible. I hung up with Robert determining to call him back when I could form a sentence.

Exiting the car. Our driver and the random man kept urging us to hurry and telling us that we needed to get out of there as soon as possible. I had no idea what to expect from all these people. Here’s what I knew: they were angry. I gathered my things and quickly got out of the car to walk to the random man’s car in front of ours. Every step was painful as my shoes were also covered in glass. We entered his car. I tried to get in the back seat but his wife had moved back with their kids and had me sit in the passenger seat. I was not ready to be in that seat again, especially after what had just happened. I closed my eyes and prayed. A lot.

The rest of the drive to the airport was somewhat uneventful. At one point, the random man (I forget his name now) pulled over to get gas and asked me how much I was going to put in his tank for the rest of the way. We negotiated. After all we had been through that far, I was so frustrated that he wanted to overcharge me. I eventually gave in. On the way, I called our original driver in order to arrange for a ride back. We at last arrived safely. From what I know, Matthew the driver took the bicyclist to the hospital.

In the States, when you’re in an accident, both parties stop, get out, exchange insurance information, the police are called, etc. It’s a whole different world here. If there’s an accident and no one is injured, the two parties work it out amongst themselves, pay for things then and leave. No police involvement if it can be avoided. If someone is injured, it’s a whole different story. Mobs form quickly wanting justice to be served. They plan on giving that justice. If I was ever driving and injure someone, I’m not supposed to stop but instead leave. I then look for the nearest police post and report it there. I can then go back with the police. If I stop, a mob will form to take their justice out on me.

For our situation, the mob blamed us. The random man was telling us that people kept yelling that it was our fault and that we should pay for everything. Clearly, I in the passenger seat had nothing to do with what happened. Even if our driver had been driving slower, the bicyclist did not even look and crossed the road and it all still would have happened. It was clearly his fault. However, that wasn’t to be seen. We were white and, according to the mob, had money and thus, should be fully responsible. If we had not left when we did, things would have escalated and the chance of us being physically harmed is high. Our driver and the random man clearly knew this, hence their urgency for us to leave.

There are times when I’m trying to sleep at nights that those first few seconds repeat themselves in my head again. The panic of those moments is still fresh in my mind. Driving after that incident has been filled with more worry as I am always looking out for bikes and praying that I don’t hit one.

This past week, I had some friends from my hometown that were in Uganda. In order to hang out with them on Friday, I had to drive down that fateful road. All. By. Myself. I was seriously nervous. I knew I had to conquer my fear. The drive went smoothly (praise GOD!) and I feel more comfortable driving there. Not completely but…more.

Cultural lessons always come when I least expect it., especially when it’s such a contrast from my own culture. God’s protection amazes me. None of us in the car were injured. I had a few small cuts from glass but nothing big. It all could have been so much worse. God did the miraculous.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Death And All His Friends

Death is something that each of us will experience one day. It’s also something that is experienced often with loved ones dying. Though we know these truths, it doesn’t make it any easier when it hits our life. The stages of grief linger longer than expected making me wonder if they ever truly end.

I’ve also wondered which is “better”: an expected death or an unexpected one. When my grandpa had lung cancer, we knew he was going to die. I was young enough to not fully understand all that was going on but knew the inevitable: cancer would take his life. However, with my aunt, it was terribly sudden. I don’t think the memories of that day will ever leave me. I remember the phone call, hearing my mom’s cries and feeling a complete sense of disbelief and denial. She couldn’t be dead…right? The next few days were a blur of difficult decisions and me never wanting to leave my grieving mother’s side. I sat next to her as she called her parents to tell them that their daughter had died, praying and crying throughout the call.

Though statistics give vital information, the downside of them is that it gives you numbers and takes out the humanity. How often have we heard stats about Africa? The deaths from genocide, wars, AIDS, malaria, typhoid, etc. Because it happens so often, it may seem that death is more “normal” here. Since so many atrocities have occurred, aren’t people used to it? Perhaps the pain is less?

My roommates and I have talked about the commonality of death here. I have been here now for one year and could list for you the people that I know that have died in that time. As I have seen my friends grieve, my heart has been broken for them. Even in the States, funerals are an expensive matter. The same is true here. Traditionally, the person must be taken back to their village to be buried there. The family then must find transportation for the body as well as the family members to get to the village. Since most people do not have a car, they have to hire someone to do this. The expenses rack up quickly adding worry and debt to grief. The consequences of death here reach far deeper than I could have ever believed, far beyond financially. When my friend Dorothy’s mom died, there was no one left to care for the family. There are now five children without an adult to care for them. How do they pay rent? Buy food? Pay for school fees?

This past week, my friend Jonah’s brother died. He had been sick for a few weeks. I had talked with Jonah the day before and he said it seemed as though he was getting better. The next day, Jonah came to church to play the drums. He then announced to the church the death of his brother. I gasped and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. He was married with four children. Seeing Jonah’s tears and pain…it was so difficult. We were able to help with the transporting of the family and body but what now? There are four children without a father; a family with no source of income.

Jonah updated the church today and asked for prayer as him and his family takes on the responsibility of his brother’s family. Amidst a continent that sees death far too often is a community culture that comes through. Though this woman now has four children to raise, she is not doing it alone. Though there is no adult caring for Dorothy and her family, members of the community have come together to help them. Will they all still struggle? Yes! Life will be much more difficult. In addition, as we all know, nothing replaces a person. I will always miss my grandpa. I will always miss my aunt. I will always miss those that were once in my life but now are not. The same is true here. But, the beauty in this culture is the people. They have a resilience that stuns me and a community that comes together.

There is no getting used to death. Atrocities never become “normal”. The pain is overwhelming, no matter what culture you are from. I came to Africa seeking faces behind the statistics. There is humanity that is lost behind those empty numbers. Next time you hear one of those numbers, think of these people. They are beautiful, caring and loving. They get hurt and cry. They experience the unthinkable and refuse to give up.

They humble me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fancy Pants

Ooooh, check out my new design. Fancy. Pants. Do you see how the background is an elephant? I know, it's SO African. My blog now totally matches my life here. Totally.

Things have been busy and life has again been flying by. I keep wondering when things are going to slow down and then I realize that the true insanity is just beginning. In two weeks, my dear friend Mary arrives. She'll be here for three weeks helping our tutoring teachers learn different methods of teaching plus have loads of fun with me. Then, in August, two of my fabulous friends Glo and Mars (Gloria and Maria, for those who don't know their endearing nicknames) are coming to share their intense Biblical knowledge with many of our mentors with Hope Alive! as well as our kids. They will also have loads of fun with me.

It will be crazy to have my two worlds collide. My roommates and I have talked often how we feel like double agents here. We have our live in America and our life here. They look completely different from the other. There is very little similar in those two lives. I'm trying to think of a way to compare them and I can't even think of anything right now. It's like two completely different lives...

...that will collide together in two weeks.

I cannot WAIT to share my life here though. It has been so difficult to put into words all that I experience in my life here. Words and pictures are limited and cannot do justice to being here. Perhaps those awesome friends of mine will be able to express this even more for you. Perhaps you should just come and check this out for yourself.

Until then...let's hope another month won't go by before I write again. With this new design, how can I resist!?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Realizing The Great Plan of God

Somehow another month went by and I barely blogged. Sorry about that...again. I feel like days and months are just flying by...which, they are.

I'm in the middle of my 10th month of living in Uganda. Almost a year has gone by and I can barely believe it! Life here seems so normal at times...and then other times, it feels like complete insanity. But, mostly, it's life. I've adjusted to this life and I love it.

This past week, there have been two moments where I got a glimpse of the great plan of God.

Moment #1: It was fall of 2002, my sophomore year in college. I had yet to declare my major and was debating what to do. I was thinking either Psychology or Communications. Due to randomly taking three Religion courses that semester and starting my new job as a student worker in the School of Religion, I started playing with the idea of minoring in Religion. It was a huge step of faith for me that I remember well. I was walking up the stairs by the Hangar as I debated all of this in my head. It was as though I could hear God asking, "do you trust me enough to major in Religion?" It was a question that stopped me in the middle of those stairs.

My first response? "No."

After much debate, I surrendered to Him. My life was His which meant that my degree was His as well. God had led me to get my undergrad in Religion which I saw zero future in. I mean, what kind of job can a girl get with that? I'm now qualified to lead a Bible study? Sweet.

Fast forward. It was fall of 2005. I had graduated that spring and was planning on going towards my Masters in Counseling. It was a great plan, really. I had this oh so useless undergrad that I had no future job with and wanted to partner it with a practical masters that I could get a job and have a decent future with. I had to take a statistics class in order to get into the program. I detest math with a passion and hated that class even more. God started working on my heart: "I want you to go to Seminary". Um, say what, God? Are you kidding me? One useless degree wasn't enough? It was our biggest fight. I did NOT want to go to Seminary. Did He WANT me to never have a paying job? Or at least a degree that would enable me to get a job? At last, I surrendered, kicking and screaming the whole way. Our next fight happened when the Intercultural Studies degree was created. I remember sitting in Ministry Chapel as they announced it thinking, "I'll never get that, even if I do go into missions. There's just no point". I swear God finds humor in these thoughts of mine, especially the ones where I say "never".

I remember looking at the job description for what I was to be doing here and wondered if I could really keep doing an administrative job. I'd done it for the past four years. I knew it wasn't my heart and passion but I wanted to first see if I would actually like living in Africa. Sure, I'd been to Kenya on two short term trips but what would it be like if I actually lived there? It was a means to an end. I wanted to see not only if I could live in Africa but what possibilities there were and what I could do. I mean, I had those useless degrees, right?

These past 10 months God has given me a love and passion for the high school girls here. A Bible study was started but bigger than that, relationships began. God overflowed my heart with a love for them. Their need for discipleship is indescribable. They've never had it. It's been said many times that "Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep" and for many of these girls, it's true. They've never been able to truly go from the Bible stories they've heard in Sunday School to grasping how they live in relationship with Christ. As I've been able to talk more with girls one on one, it's been amazing to glimpse into their every day life. Heartbreaking, mainly. I feel as though I'm bursting with His love for them.

This realization came a couple nights ago when I was discussing my future with my roommates. Now that I can see what kind of ministry I could get involved with here, I'm wondering how to go about future plans and such. It hit me: what is needed is sound Biblical teaching. What I have are two degrees worth of information that God allowed me to get for such a time as this. Oh gosh, did you just get chills? I did.

Moment #2. I just started language study today in Luganda. There's over 50 tribal languages in Uganda and with English as the national language, there isn't a need for me to know one of the tribal languages since I'm based in Kampala where most everyone speaks English. However, I want to. I want to understand the culture on a deeper level. I want to be able to communicate with people in their native tongue. And darn it, I want cheaper prices at the market. I'm not great at languages. I didn't excel in Spanish in high school (when the teacher would tell us what page to turn to in Spanish, I'd ask my friend what page to go to) and never really dedicated myself to any other study. However, I started studying Swahili while in Seminary. I knew a girl who grew up in Tanzania and with my strong interest in Kenya, I wanted to learn. The timing wasn't the best. I was working full time, taking a full load of Seminary classes and attempting to not go crazy. Attempting to learn a language was not my focus. I did learn some from it but would need a huge refresher if I were to ever attempt to speak it again.

My first lesson in Luganda was today. It was overwhelming. We went over the formal greetings for the morning and afternoon...and that filled up our hour long session. What was amazing to me was the general similarities with Swahili. They're both Bantu languages which gives them that similarity. I never realized how that random studying of Swahili would ever come to play again. And who knows, it still might not make a huge difference...but I know it will help. It will also help living in the area that I can speak this language and practice it. I never knew how those lessons would come into play. That God had put the desire in my heart to learn Swahili for such a time as this.

There's many more moments and that will continue the rest of my life. His plans are huge. They're so much greater than my own. At the time, they made absolutely no sense. I wasn't happy, especially about my education. This was NOT the direction I ever saw my life going. But, thankfully, He is the Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. He put these desires in my heart and then fulfilled them. He has such a greater plan for my life than I could ever dream of.

And truly, I'm living my dream.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Land Of A Thousand Hills – Part 4

Easter Sunday was an interesting holiday to spend in Rwanda. We were going to church that morning with another missionary family with WorldVenture. Before church, Kacie had made coffee cake to celebrate the day. I totally wish that I would have taken pictures of us in our Easter dresses (which were really just dresses that could be rolled up easily into our backpacks) but alas, I have no visual proof of our Easter looks. To quell any fears, neither of us wore large white hats or white socks with the lace on top that would be rolled over. The Brubakers picked us up in their van and we sat with their three incredibly adorable children on the way to church. They explain a bit about the church we were going to. Since Tim, the husband, works with local pastors, they often do not have a regular church that they are at every Sunday. When they’re in Kigali, they attend the one we went to. It’s a popular church in Kigali and a place where many government officials, expatriates and lots of white people attend. They’re also one of the only that speaks English, which is a bonus for their kids (and us). There could truly be nothing more opposite with the church that we attend in Kampala where I’d be shocked if a government official showed up and where we’re one of the few white people. The service in Kigali was perhaps the most Western service that we’ve been to since being in Africa. Wait, perhaps? Sorry. Yes, yes it was. There was this white man leading the choir on his keyboard and it was all very Don Moen-esque, if that makes sense. A white man leading worship on a keyboard also made me think of David McKinney and where he’ll be in 30 years. J

Though normally they have a white man who speaks, this Sunday they had one of their Rwandan staff. It was a fascinating day to be there. That Wednesday would be the start of memorial week. That Wednesday, it would be exactly 16 years since the start of the genocide. If we understood correctly, the memorial week was a time of mourning for the country but the mourning would continue for the next 100 days, the length of the genocide. On Easter, we celebrate not only death in the death of Christ but we celebrate life in His resurrection. The message encouraged its listeners to see how death was defeated but also to live a life of forgiveness.

Forgiveness was a theme we heard throughout our days in Rwanda. Stephen, our guide at Nyamata church, had told us how he had forgiven the man that had killed his family. They actually have a good relationship now. In the museum, we learned how those that were killers in the genocide are on parole but living in neighborhoods throughout the city. When they come to live in a neighborhood, the whole group meets together where the person is introduced to their neighbors and admits what they have done. They are paying their sentence still and the neighbors are asked to live in forgiveness with them. It was inspiring to see the theme of forgiveness that was weaved into the culture.

It’s an incredible look into forgiveness which, to be honest, is something that I’ve been working on here. Over the years, seeing what I saw, living where I did and working where I did, cynicism and hurt was built up. I knew I was cynical then but I didn’t understand how deep it went and all that it affected. It became this accepted form of life. Add living in the Bible belt and in the mix of that, my relationship with God became a religion. I added all these to-do’s and not-to-do’s to my relationship with Him. I lived a life of expectations instead of expectancy. To expound on that, I give you one more excerpt from “The Shack”:

(Papa/God) “Let’s use the example of friendship and how removing the element of life from a noun can drastically alter a relationship. Mack, if you and I are friends, there is an expectancy that exists within our relationship. When we see each other or are apart, there is expectancy of being together, of laughing and talking. That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. But what happens if I change that ‘expectancy’ to an ‘expectation’ – spoken or unspoken? Suddenly, law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations. Our living friendship rapidly deteriorates into a dead thing with rules and requirements. It is no longer about you and me, but about what friends are supposed to do, or the responsibilities of a good friend”… “I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else. The idea behind expectations requires that someone does not know the future or outcome and is trying to control behavior to get the desired result. Humans try to control behavior largely through expectations, I know you and everything about you. Why would I have an expectation other than what I already know? That would be foolish. And beyond that, because I have no expectations, you never disappoint me.” (Young, 205-206)

This whole concept has radically changed my relationship with Christ. Perhaps it’s why “The Shack” was such a needed book for me during this trip. It strips all that excess insanity that we add on to what is a beautiful relationship with the Most High God. I’ve been seeing lately how much has gotten in the way between my Abba and me, mainly because of living with expectations. How beautiful to live in expectancy with my Savior.

All that to say, unforgiveness was one of those things that I was holding onto that slowly by slowly, God’s been healing and working with me on. I had bitterness and anger stored deep inside for people who would never ask for my forgiveness. Is forgiveness reserved only for when someone asks for it?

Forgiveness is a choice. A hard one, yes, but still a choice. It’s not something that you wake up one day and you “feel” it. What many (clearly, not all) Rwandans have realized is that they have a choice to make. Unforgiveness ruins you. If that were the route that Rwandans chose, they would be the walking dead; still alive physically but ruined inside. Instead, many have chosen forgiveness. Their country was in shambles. They had many choices to make but there had to be forgiveness. Isn’t that insane? When I think of what all they saw and experienced, I can’t imagine getting to the point of not only forgiving but also befriending. To see someone one day hacking your mother to death and then years later, considering that person your friend. The effects of forgiveness run deep and wide as do the effects of unforgiveness. I’ve seen both sides in my life. Living it out is difficult. But, I think, if those Rwandans can forgive their killers, how can I hold things against people for less? And, even more, if God can forgive me, how could I possibly not forgive others?

After church on Sunday, we were dropped back at Audrey’s place. I spent the day finishing up “Redeeming Love”. The book ends with Angel stripping all the layers off that have kept her between her and her Husband. The first few times I’d read the book, I always thought it was the oddest ending. But, how true! In order for me to experience His love, I need to rid myself of what I’ve put between us. It’s so…freeing. Not living by expectations but living in expectancy. Throwing off all that hinders and living in His love. It feels like weights have been lifted off my heart.

My journey to Rwanda was more than a bus ride. It was more than genocide and museums. It became a part of my journey with God in the most unexpected ways. It had me grappling with God and myself in ways that I had avoided before.

On Monday, we rode the bus back to Uganda. I looked at those same streams that were once filled with bodies and marveled. I marveled at how our great God works in the most wretched of circumstances. I was amazed at His forgiveness. I was completely humbled by the depth of His love, by His expectancy in our relationship with Him.

Though I still mourn for Rwanda, I’m filled with hope for their future. With a focus on forgiveness, they’re taking steps forward. I pray that each Rwandan chooses forgiveness and that they discover the freedom in a relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Land Of A Thousand Hills – Part 3

Sorry for the incredibly long delay in getting this out. I also had little time to edit this so pardon any misspellings, poor grammar, random sentences that make no sense, etc. Part 4 will hopefully follow soon. Enjoy!

We got ready on Saturday bracing for an adventurous day. We didn’t know if the genocide museum would be open but either way, we knew we’d be driving around Kigali. While the road system is absolutely incredible in Rwanda (have I emphasized that enough?), they drive on the right side of the road. As we’ve adjusted to driving on the left side of the road in Uganda, it would be an adventure remembering right instead of left.

Kacie driving on the LEFT side of the car and on the RIGHT side of the road. So weird.

Me in the passenger seat feeling like I was supposed to be driving.

It was also a city that we had never navigated, only having crudely drawn marker maps from Audrey. We looked up Google Maps (praise God for the internet…and Google Maps) and made up our own crudely drawn maps for our route that day. We got to the museum with this:

The Gisozi Genocide Museum

We set off and found the genocide museum easily. After attempting to go in the wrong entrance and having to back up awkwardly into traffic to then get to the right entrance, we were golden. The museum was just that, a museum. In ways, I had heard most of the information before due to all the research I’ve done on the genocide. There were parts that I had not seen and understood. There were pictures of people that I had only heard their names. Knowing that Bagosora was one of the instrumental organizers of the genocide, I anticipated seeing his face for the first time. I looked at the picture, stared at his eyes and wondered how any man could do such horrific things. There were some pictures of the dead. I stared at their cut up bodies and mourned. There was one particular picture that I could not take my eyes from. In ways, it sounds so morbid. However, it was staring at everything I had read. I had seen the words but even through that, could not visualize this horror. The museum put pictures to the words. It put faces to those who were slaughtered and to those who slaughtered.

At the end of the informational part of the museum, they had a room of pictures. The pictures were of those who had died in the genocide, brought by their family and friends. They had five or so sections that had picture after picture lined. Pictures that were full of life. A husband and wife on their wedding day. A large family celebrating over a feast of food. A family picture filled with the smiles of children. The pictures were full of LIFE being lived out. And that life was taken away.

It was there that I broke down. They had little chairs in each section. I sat in one, rocking back and forth, tears filling my eyes, silently asking, “why God why God why God WHY?” Why did You let this happen? Why were these beautiful people so horribly killed? It makes no sense. Though I’m sure I’m sounding like a broken record about this, it was then that I went back to my readings from “The Shack”. I had to rest in my knowledge of God. I had to rest in His purpose. I could not be the judge of God for He is the judge, not me. I worked through a lot in that little room. Though there were thousands, I wanted to look at every single picture. Each picture represented a life. I wanted them to be seen. I wanted to see them.

After that part of the museum, you head upstairs to the children’s section. It makes me want to throw up remembering. There, they would have a picture of a child. There would be a placard below listing their name, their favorite food, their favorite thing to do and finally, how they were killed. It was truly unthinkable. You look into their faces, into their eyes, and wonder, “how could anyone do such a thing to you?”.

At the end of that exhibit, you can walk outside and enter into these beautiful gardens. Also outside is a mass grave of, get this, approximately 258,000. Two hundred fifty eight thousand human beings, all slaughtered to death. For what? For what purpose were they tortured and killed? Because, as we learned in the museum, at one point, their ancestors either had more than ten cows or less than ten cows. When the Germans came to colonize Rwanda, it was they who split the people into two groups. Prior to colonization, there was no distinction. The Germans came and proclaimed that whoever had more than ten cows was a Tutsi and those who had less than ten cows was a Hutu. And that was that. Though the Tutsi’s ruled for awhile, they were the minority and were thrown over by the majority. Ever since the 1960’s, there have been mass killings of Tutsi’s. Genocide was attempted long before April of 1994 and was tried many times. This time, they were almost successful of completely wiping out the Tutsi’s. Almost.

100 days. 1 million people.

Kacie and I talked about this a lot: we were alive. 1994. I mean, where were you? I was in what, 5th grade? I was alive. My grandparents can talk about World War 2 but I have no memories. I was alive during this genocide and knew nothing about it. Even more tragic, the country I lived in knew all about it and did absolutely nothing to help or stop it.

As I mentioned before, if ever I were in trouble in the States, I would call the police. But, if the US were ever in a mass killing scenario controlled by the government, I would think, ‘but surely, other countries will come and help us! They see that we’re all getting killed here, need help and they will come! Surely, Britain! Other countries that we have helped, they will come. We’ll be saved!”

I can’t imagine what it’s like for Rwandans today. The thing is, they know the truth. They know that even if this all happens again, no one will come. How? Because no one came before. No one came to save them. The UN presence was crippled by the lack of world support and was reduced to being attacked and watching the slaughter happen before their eyes (read “Shake Hands With The Devil” by Romeo Dallaire, the UN Commander there at the time. Stunning.). The world watched them be slaughtered and did nothing. Can you imagine the hopelessness they have today? I can’t even begin to imagine it.

After the heaviness of the museum, we could handle no more genocide. We navigated our way to the Union Trade Center, a shopping mall in Kigali using our handy dandy drawn map.

We parked there and walked in the torrential downpour that began to a restaurant that we had heard about. We took a wrong turn (always a plus in the rain) and happened upon the Hotel des Milles Collines, aka THE Hotel Rwanda.

I had a mix of emotions. I forget if I mentioned this before and it’s far too late for me to double check so bear with me if this is a repeat. When we asked about visiting Hotel Rwanda, we were informed by our hostess that all was not as it seemed. The infamous hotel manager, Paul, is currently in America. He couldn’t come back to Rwanda if he wanted to as, if he did, he would be arrested and charged with genocide crimes. Though he did save some people in the hotel, he also allowed others to be killed instead of his family and took place in the killings as well.

I KNOW! I was totally heartbroken. Rwandans apparently can’t stand him, especially as he’s presented himself to be so incredible when, in fact, he wasn’t.

Since it was pouring, we passed the hotel in search of Shokola, a delicious Mediterranean restaurant which would be our retreat in the rain. A block later, we discovered our oasis and relaxed. We read some, discussed and processed the past two days of overwhelming genocide overload, ate delicious food and waited for the rain to pass.

A blurry picture of Hotel des Milles Collines thanks to Kacie not wanting to deal with the taxi's constantly asking if we wanted a ride.

Once it did, we went back to the hotel where I was determined to take a picture and go inside. A lot happened at that hotel, no matter what truth Paul told or not. The hotel was beautiful inside. I looked around the upscale lobby and wondered how it all went down. By the way, it looks nothing like the movie. They should have filmed it there though since it is truly beautiful. I wonder if they’ve remodeled. Anyway, Kacie was NOT about being a tourist at this place so we headed out quickly. It’s a good thing the guards ignored the two random white girls just walking around.

We headed back towards the Union Trade Center and attempted to find Rwandan crafts, particularly the pottery that they are known for. We searched to no avail. We wandered the Union Trade Center, which was much less exciting than I anticipated. We then headed back home to make dinner, relax and read. Our time in Rwanda was such a great time to just READ. I made my way through “Redeeming Love” each day and saw myself in Angel while overwhelmed by God’s pursuing and faithful love. I needed to grasp His love during this trip…and He knew it.

I also made some of the best white sauce I’ve ever made that night. Mm…

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Land Of A Thousand Hills – Part 2

We awoke on Good Friday morning wondering what our plans would be for the day. Audrey was in town until around noon and was able to draw us some maps and give us a number for a taxi driver. Since it was Good Friday, we weren’t sure what would be open making our plans tentative. Audrey drew some maps for us, Charles, our taxi driver, arrived and we were off.

First stop: the airport…but not to fly away. While Uganda has lots of ATMs in which to retrieve money, Rwanda doesn’t. One of the only places she knew of where to use an ATM was the airport. While Rwanda is way ahead of Uganda in some ways (must I tell you again how incredible the road system is there!?), they are behind in other ways. We got our money and headed to Bourbon Café, this infamous coffee shop in Kigali. It’s the only coffee shop that I’ve heard of in Africa where you can get coffee to go. Sure, if I asked here in Kampala, they would stick it in a small Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid that doesn’t have a drink tab (and would take at least 20 min…but that part is everywhere in Africa) but clearly, not the same. We had lunch there and felt somehow like we were in America with the typical coffee shop décor.

After lunch, we called Charles again. Once we figured out that the genocide museum wasn’t open, we decided to go to Nyamata church, a place of massacre during the genocide. I didn’t realize that we would be going so far out of Kigali. Charles headed towards the countryside and all of those lush green hills. I couldn’t stop staring out the window as we passed shacks, running children and that stunning scenery.

We arrived at the church and walked up, unsure of what to expect. Even writing about this, my heart is just aching at what I heard and saw. I will try to do it justice.

On April 7, 1994, the genocide in Rwanda began. An Italian nun started to protect Tutsi’s at the Catholic church in the rural town of Nyamata. It was discovered that she was protecting Tutsi’s and, as she was about to enter her home one night, she was murdered. With the attention her murder received, the protected Tutsi’s at the church were discovered. At that time, there were 10,000 men, women and children packed in behind the iron gates of the church. Some killers came to “rid the land of the cockroaches”. Some of the Tutsi men came to fight them off. Once the killers realized that there was such opposition, they called in the army.

Wait, did you read that right? Did I just say that the government was involved in the genocide? Yes. Yes, I did. Please put yourself in the shoes of these people. If you felt your life was at risk, what would you do? Who would you call? In America, you call the police. You can trust them. They have your safety in mind. What if it were the police that were trying to kill you? What would you do? Maybe call a close friend? What if that close friend wanted to kill you too? Is there a sense of helplessness that’s invading your mind right now? It did mine when I processed through that at the church. These people had no one fighting for them and nowhere to go. They went to the place where they thought they would be safe: a church.

While the killers only had access to such weapons as hammers and machetes, the army had powerful weapons and grenades. Grenades were thrown in killing some, injuring more. The iron bars of the church were chopped off…and the torturous massacre began.

When I think of mass killing, I think of a quick death that kills many. I think of people being shot in mass groups. It was not so for those at the church. Armed with machetes, the men entered the church. They killed some but their goal was to instill fear. I’ve been unsure of what to share since these stories are horrific. I want to share their stories not to be grotesque but praying that your heart will break for people that may be thousands of miles away from you, but are still people. They are humans, just like you and me...and they are no less human and no less important than you or me. So, here are some of the stories of such God-created and loved humans...

There was a pregnant Hutu woman who was married to a Tutsi man. When asked why she married a “cockroach”, she answered that she was in love with him. They then gave her two options: kill him or you will both be killed. Sobbing, she informed them that she could not kill the man she loved. They then told her that they wanted to see what a Tutsi baby looked like and preceded to drag her to the front of the church towards the altar. They laid her on the altar, cut her stomach open and took the baby out. After seeing what they wanted, they killed the baby. She was then killed along with her husband. The above picture is the altar in which she was tortured and killed on.

In the process of their killings, they cut one man’s head off. After this, they threw his head to a group of Tutsi’s, forcing them play soccer with the dead man’s head as the “ball”.

Killing 10,000 people by machete and hammers is exhausting work. Their first blow would not be lethal. They would often cut off the arms and feet first so that the person could not escape. They were slowly hacking the people to death. With the men tiring in their killing, they recruited the help of their wives to kill the women and children. The children had been cordoned off in an area of the church to keep them safe. There was no safe place in this church. The women would pick up the children by their legs and swing their heads towards the brick wall. If a male killer wanted to test the sharpness of his machete, fearing it would have become dull with all the killing, they would bring a child for him to cut their head off. The above picture shows the section where the children had been kept. I touched the walls tearing over the weapon they had become.

It’s the children that make me want to sob. I can’t imagine looking at these young innocent faces and doing this to them.

Our guide at the church told us that people who had money were actually paying the killers to shoot them with a gun instead of a torturous death by machete. Can you imagine?

It took two days to kill so many. The ones that were still alive at the end of the first day were injured to the point where they would not be able to move. The killers returned the next day to finish off the rest.

There were seven people who survived the massacre at Nyamata church. One of these was our guide. My heart breaks for him. Every single day, he relives the worst day of his life. Every day, he returns to the place that he experienced hell on earth. Please pray for him. I’m not sure where he is at in the forgiveness process but I can’t imagine how it is for him.

Today, the benches of the church are filled with the clothes of those who died in the genocide. Some of the clothes are the ones that were on those who died in the church that day. Some are from others who died in the genocide elsewhere but their remaining loved ones have brought a piece of clothing to the church to remember them. It’s eerie. You walk around seeing shoes, hats, shirts, pants, jewelry, rosaries and more. Personal items of those who died for no reason.

Also at the church is a mass grave of 48,000 of those who died in the genocide. We walked through these underground graves filled with skulls with machete marks and many bones. For every skull, I thought of the person that it had belonged to. I almost broke down in sobs while standing there. Why did these people have to die? And in this way? It was all just so nonsensical. Only a few of the bodies in the mass graves have been identified. The rest are in a pile of bones; their personalities, talents and life wiped away from the earth. We will never know their smiles. We will never know what they loved to do or what they were good at. We will never know how they could have bettered the world we live in. I couldn’t take any pictures of the bones. Though they had died in the most disrespectful way, I wanted to at least give them that respect in their grave.

The ride back to Kigali was filled with a somber silence. I stared out the windows again at the beautiful countryside wondering how it had been full of such tragedy. I watched the children running by and wondered how anyone could hurt them. I saw men and women going about their work wondering what they experienced and what nightmares they have at night. Were they survivors or killers?

There was another Rwandan, Stephen, who also led us around the church. He wasn’t at the church during the genocide but he survived the genocide and has lost all of his family besides his sister and grandmother because of it. As we walked around the church outside, he stated, “there are some things that I wish I could ask God someday like, “where were you during this time? Did you know this was going on?”.

Kacie and I talked later about how, in a really twisted way, the genocide was an act of God’s love. God hasn’t made us puppets but has given us a free will to make choices. God cares so much about giving us this free will that things like this happen. Reading “The Shack” was a big part of me being able to process this day. Allow me to insert an excerpt of the book to show you what I mean:

(Mack)“But, if I understand what you’re saying, the consequences of our selfishness are part of the process that brings but to the end of our delusions, and help us find you. Is that why you don’t stop every evil?...

(Papa/God) “If only it were that simple, Mackenzie. Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” (Young, 190, emphasis added)

Do you see what I mean?

The evil that was chosen on that fateful day in April is indescribable, unbelievable and heart wrenching. The stories are etched in my heart and mind and still make my stomach curl in disgust. In the next 100 days, one million people would be slaughtered in this way. Some by strangers. Some by husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, neighbors, pastors and more. I’m still processing this. I can’t understand the “why” because there’s not an excusable answer that would suffice. I have a choice to either shake my fist and, like Stephen, ask God, “where were You!? Did You know what was going on and did nothing!?”.

Or, I can praise Him that His love extends to depths that I will never fully comprehend.

It is my choice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Land Of A Thousand Hills, Part 1

Allow me to give some background to these next few entries. I have wanted to go to Rwanda since before I even moved to Uganda; intrigued, curious and saddened by the genocide so many years ago. When I landed in Uganda, it became an obsession. I had so desperately wanted fully understand this despicable time in history. I wanted to feel it, see it, touch it, smell it. I’ve read numerous books that detailed the before, during and after of the genocide as well as personal survivor stories. I finished one a few weeks ago and determined that I was done. I could read no more of these horrible atrocities. My heart had been completely broken. When the opportunity came up to go to Rwanda, I was nervous. I didn’t know if I could take it. I didn’t know if emotionally, I would be able to handle it. I had read all the words, felt the emotions but had yet to see, touch and smell. I was about to do just that.

It was Tuesday night. Kacie and I were both sitting at the table bemoaning the fact that Kate was leaving the next day for the States to be gone for three weeks and that we would be all alone without her and falling apart. Maybe that was just me. It was then that we realized that we had a four day weekend coming up. It was decided that we should DO something. We’d both wanted to go to Rwanda and since Kate has already gone, it was decided. Within minutes, the planning began. 24 hours later, I was packing for Rwanda ready to head on a bus down on Thursday morning.

5 days. 26 hours on a bus. 1 backpack.

I’m a girl. Do you even know how hard this was to pack for!?

We (um, I) were running late on Thursday morning. We planned on taking boda’s down to where the bus left. Traffic was insane getting into town. The day before when I had bought the tickets, my friend had informed me that these buses “kept time”. Here, most everything is African time, which translates into whenever it happens, it happens. But, when they say that something or someone “keeps time”, it means that it is on time. I started getting worried as I continued to check my watch. The bus was taking off at 8:30am and we were cutting it close. At one point, I told my boda that we needed to get there FAST (something I never tell them for fear of them doing something crazy to get me somewhere) as the bus was about to leave. In that process, I got hit (not hard) by a taxi (totally the taxi’s fault, not my boda’s) but it added to my frustration of the morning. At that point, it was 8:30. We weren’t there.

Oh. My. Word.

We literally pulled up as the bus was backing up. We busted our tails on the bus, sat in our seats and breathed a sigh of relief…knowing also that we wouldn’t be moving from these positions for the next 13 hours. There were some hilarious moments that could only happen here…and to me. We stopped about five or so hours into the trip so people could get off the bus, get food from the local vendors around, etc. Last minute, I decided I want a chapatti. The guy was taking forever and won’t go down in his price. The bus started honking and pulling away. I literally RAN back to the bus and boarded to a chorus of “sorry”’s as I walked back to my seat. Almost left twice in one day. I was apparently more on African time than the Africans themselves.

Knowing that I would have ample time to read, I brought two books along. I had read “The Shack” (William Paul Young) on my way home to the States. After hearing a variety of opinions on it, I was intrigued enough to read it. There are three books that I could say that have revolutionized my life and view of God: the Bible, Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers) and now, The Shack. I rarely desire to reread a book numerous times but I know that no matter how many times I reread those three, I will never stop learning. All that to say, I was excited to reread “The Shack”. God had a purpose in the timing of that reading as if I hadn’t, I would not have been able to handle all that I saw, heard, felt, smelt and more during my time in Rwanda.

There were many times during my days in Rwanda that I wanted to scream towards Heaven and ask “WHY?”. Why did You let this happen? Why didn’t You stop this insanity? Why, God, WHY? It was my readings on the way that helped me process, grapple and understand how He works through the most difficult times of life (this may or may not be a shameless promotion of this book. However, if you haven’t read this book, I literally BEG you to read it. It will change your life and your view of God). I’m not done processing, as I’m sure these entries will showcase.

Though Rwanda is a different country, I didn’t expect it to be THAT different. I mean, we’re neighbors. However, they don’t speak English but instead French and Kinyarwanda. I had never wished that I had taken French in high school more than at the time we were crossing the border and trying to figure out what in the world was going on. The bus stopped and everyone got off. We assumed it was a bathroom break and since neither of us needed that, we stayed on the bus…until a man said something like, “Hurry! Hurry!” It was then that we looked across the street to see a sign that said “Immigration” and realized we were at the border and needed to get off the bus to go through all the paperwork. When we walked across the bridge to Rwanda, we did our paperwork on that end and watched all of our bags on the bus get tossed out. Plastic bags aren’t allowed in Rwanda (like your typical Wal-mart bag, not Ziploc) so bags were gone through and plastic bags (called “cavarras” here) were torn and thrown out. We stood for awhile trying to figure out what the heck was going on with no one around us speaking a bit of English. They also drive on the right side of the road in Rwanda which is just CRAZY after getting used to driving on the left side in Uganda. It was fascinating to note the architectural differences as well as the organization of Kigali. There was an order and neatness to everything that was just astounding.

When we crossed the border, it seemed as though everything became more beautiful. There’s a reason that Rwanda is known as the Land of A Thousand Hills. It is truly stunning. The hills were lush and green flowing into valleys filled with crops. The streams flowing by the road made everything picturesque. So often, I wish my eyes were cameras that could capture the beauty surrounding me. This was one of those times. Though beautiful, there was a sadness to it all. With all of my readings on the genocide, each stream made me remember that every stream, lake and river was filled with bodies during the genocide. A particular story that the UN General during the genocide, Romeo Dallaire (his book, “Shake Hands With The Devil”, is an overwhelming and excellent book on all that happened), told about driving through a body filled stream came to mind. Though boards had been put down to cross the stream, it was the bodies that became the “bridge” for the vehicle.

We arrived in Kigali that night, making it in 10 hours instead of the expected 13. My body fully appreciated that. Audrey, a WorldVenture midtermer in Kigali, picked us up and brought us to her place that was to be our home for the next few days. Her parents are WorldVenture missionaries in Uganda (we love them!) and she was leaving the next day to spend Easter with them. We would have the house to ourselves but also have to navigate Kigali on our own. That whole driving on the right side of the road deal came into play while we attempted to navigate our way around the capital city with our crudely hand drawn maps. But, more on that later. That night, Audrey had meetings and plans, which fit well for us since that drive had exhausted us completely. We both perused her book collection which, to my happy surprise, she had “Redeeming Love”. After giving my (extremely worn and used) copy away prior to moving here, I meant to buy another but had yet to. These past few months I had especially wanted to reread it, as I knew I needed it. God answered my prayer and I delved into it. God knew just what I needed.

I needed to have a better understanding of His love and purpose before I headed into the aftermath of genocide; the wretched depravity of the human heart contrasting the depth of His love.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Visits And How They Have Changed My Life

My first trip to Kenya was life-changing. It was four girls heading to Africa having a plan to spend the entire time at an orphanage delving into the lives of the kids. One of the team, Joy, was Kenyan and we would be joining her parents there to do ministry with them. This was the plan until the day before where we learned we could no longer to go the orphanage. Our entire trip changed and God took over the details. Because of this, we were able to visit a village in the middle of nowhere bringing food and other supplies to needy families in the bush. The above picture shows Mrs. Kaleli (Joy's mom and a woman who I also now call "mom"), Joy's cousin, Joy, me, Maria and Liz with one of the families we visited. It was my favorite experience there; tromping through the African bush to bring food to these families deep in poverty. There was nothing like seeing dirt covered children dressed in rags nervous of our white skin. Looks of hopelessness were already filling some of their eyes as they realized the difficulties of life at such a young age. I will never forget the look of gratitude in the eyes of the parents as they realized that they would have food for at least the next week to give to their children. As I’ve shared many times, that was the trip that God poured His love for the people of Africa in and through me. I knew that my life would change forever knowing that I couldn’t just go back to America and live a white picket fence life with a husband and 2.5 kids living the American dream. I couldn’t walk away from what I’d seen. I had to do something to help. My life would never be the same again and I knew it.

That was five years ago.

Such experiences years ago make home visits one of my favorite things about living here in Uganda. There’s much that I love that Hope Alive! does but the most incredible thing to see is the relationship between the mentor and their children. Children aren’t a number in our project but instead, each child has a mentor who visits their home at least twice a month to see how they are REALLY doing. They invest in their spiritual life as well as seeing that they’re taken care of physically. Each mentor has about 10 kids that they mentor and care for. It’s personal. And I love it. Though I’ve gone on numerous home visits in Kampala, I’d never been able to go at our other sites. That is, until this past week.

The three of us girls took a trip to Gulu this past week. Kate was starting a tutoring program for the kids and Kacie had a lot of nursing things to figure out and implement. I was along for the ride to help both of them in whatever they needed. The biggest enticement for me to come was that we would be able to do home visits, something I’d been dying to do in Gulu.
Though most of our kids were once close together in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, they are now spread out in the villages surrounding Gulu. Because they are so spread out, the Ugandans we traversed with were concerned that we would tire too quickly.

For the most part, all Ugandans think we’re crazy weak. This is mainly because we have a car and we drive places whereas they walk everywhere they do. Hence, they think we’re incapable of walking. Anywhere. Ever. They think we’ll tire too easily. Even when we tell them how many miles we run in the mornings, they just think we can’t do it. It’s become hilarious. Once we convinced them that we’d be able to walk without collapsing in exhaustion in the middle of nowhere, we were off.

Our first stop ended up being right near the feeding center that we have for our site. There we met this adorable elderly man who was caring for his four grandchildren, all who are sponsored through Hope Alive! He is nearly blind and is disabled making him unable to support these children. His son and daughter both died leaving him as the only caretaker for these children. He told us many times how much he appreciates what Hope Alive! is doing and how much it has made a difference in their life. His grandchildren get breakfast and dinner each day at our feeding center. I can’t even imagine where they would be or how they would be surviving without such help. There were many moments during our conversation with him that I had to hold back tears. He apologized numerous times that he had nothing to offer us as his guests. We insisted that being with him was all we needed. I know that, culturally, that had to be hard for him. In the midst of him sharing his heart, baby chicks were walking freely around the living room area while neighboring children occasionally looking through the door at all the visitors, especially those white ones. We left their house to visit more kids. Our Ugandan friends, Concy (mentor and asst. site manager) and two Michael’s (both mentors) tried to then encourage us to drive as far as we could to get to the next location as it was far. We again told them that there was no chance of us tiring and we went. Storm clouds were brewing in the distance so we picked up our pace. I couldn’t even tell you how far we walked. We went from the IDP camp to the main road and walked that for awhile. We branched off the main road onto a small dirt path taking us deep into the bush. As we walked, we passed many huts with naked children running around and mothers at work. Living in the crowded city of Kampala, I had desperately missed being in a place like this. It was refreshing!

At last, we arrived at Josca’s hut. Josca takes care of four of her own children but also seven (yes, SEVEN) children of her brother’s and sister’s who have all died. If I remember right, four of them are sponsored by Hope Alive! She alone cares for eleven children in her small hut. ELEVEN, people. Can you even imagine!? When I heard that, my first thought was, “Oh, this would just never happen in America”. One woman caring for 11 children? The woman would have her own dang show on TLC. It’s truly unbelievable. What was more surprising was the state of her little mud hut. Everything was in its place. Space was used creatively and efficiently. It was extremely tidy. This is truly a remarkable woman. Her eyes displayed her intelligence as well as her kindness. I was drawn to her and kept asking her questions about how she does what she does. While we were there, her mother came from a couple huts over to greet us. Daffine, the one in blue, is one of our sponsored kids as well as the one next to her who I forget her name. We were about to leave but she said that she had already started a meal for us. Her hospitality was overwhelming and humbling. Concy asked if it we were able to stay and we left it up to Concy. Concy had plans so we sadly had to leave and tell them we would be back another time for dinner. Since she could not give us a meal, she handed us a bag full of sesame seeds (called “sim sim” here). I left full of joy, admiration and…humility.

We went on more home visits the next day after spending the day at Saturday Club with all of the kids at the Gulu site. But really, this is long enough. I’ll stop with those two families but each family had their own story.

Being where I am and doing what I’m doing, I hear lots of stories. Everyone has been though such heart wrenching times in their life that it is overwhelming. Sometimes, the reality of the situation doesn’t hit me completely. Spending time with these two families, it struck me so deep. It helps me to go to their homes because I see how they LIVE. It’s not just a picture showing the poverty of the situation. It’s not just words on paper. I’m seeing their life and how they live day to day. It’s overwhelming. It’s heartbreaking. It’s…amazing. Seeing life change like this is…indescribable.

When I was in Kenya, I wanted to make a difference. I knew that a bag of flour would not make a long term difference and I wanted to be a part of something that would. God heard my prayers and visiting those homes showed me how He had answered me. I could clearly see the difference in their lives! I was seeing the effect of the family of God in the most beautiful way. There are times that I feel so undeserving to be a part of this. Why me, God? Why do I get to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears how You’re working? I’m so honored. Often people ask me with how I could live here or say things like, “you’re so good” or “good for you”. Many times it’s in that “Oh heck, I could NEVER live in Africa so good on you for doing that” (which is seriously how I used to be). Oh, how little all of this is about me! That’s right, none of it is. I’ve said it a million times but…I’m the lucky one. I absolutely LOVE being here and being a part of God’s work here! There are times that His work just smacks me in the face as this trip did.

This trip was also monumental in another way. This was my absolutely first roach free Gulu trip!! Do I even need to tell you how exciting that is!?!? Every time I opened the door to my hotel room, I expected to see the scattered movement but it never happened. What a relief! I did have this fear that one would have gotten into my luggage just as a bit of torture for my life and appear here at the house. Kind of like, “you didn’t see us there but mwahaha, we came home with you!”. And then they’d twitch their nasty antennae, spread their wings and fly to divebomb my face. Because that’s just so what would happen. Did I mention that I have an active imagination, especially when it comes to insects? I swear I know their secret conversations and plans to ruin my life. But, no roach hid in my duffel bag and I was freeeee!

Now, how to get rid of that mouse in our kitchen…