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…

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cute Moments

Since I work with kids, there's many moments that are just cute. They're usually hard to explain unless you know the child but I thought you'd appreciate them.

We have a Bible time with the different age groups during Saturday Club. A few Saturday's ago, I sat in with the lower primary kids. It was a rainy day which made everyone all the more antsy and distracted. In the midst of one of those extra distracted moments, I caught Agnes' eye. Agnes is one of our tiniest kids. She's not one of the youngest but she's just little! Her nickname by many of the kids is "Baby". She's also downright adorable, as you can see. The picture above was taken at our Fun Day after I painted her face. Cutest little kitten you've ever seen, right? With our eyes caught, I blew a kiss at her. She immediately clasped her hand on her cheek to show where the kiss had landed. I about melted to the floor.

During that same Bible session, there was another irresistibly cute moment. Meet Andrew. This picture was also taken on Fun Day after he got his face painted making him look more like a girl and taking away from the absolute cuteness that is Andrew. Just know, he's one of the sweetest and cutest boys ever. For real. Right after I regained my composure after Agnes' cuteness, I caught eyes with Andrew and winked at him. Most kids don't know how to wink here but it's been my determination that I WILL teach them all how to wink, cross their eyes and make a fish face. True essentials for life, I tell you. To my absolute surprise and enjoyment, Andrew winked right back! Two ridiculously cute moments in the span of five minutes was almost too much for me. It was all I could do to hide my reactions and not be even more of a distraction.

There's many times that I can't get over the adorableness (that's totally a word) of watching the kids worship God. They get so into it by clapping and dancing. Where so many are too self-conscious to do it (um, that'd be me), they dance with all their little hearts. Or when we pull up to Saturday Club and they all surround the vehicle pining to be the first that gets a hug. This usually ends up in a mass group hug.

For so many, I look at them in awe. I know their stories and backgrounds. And yet, they come with wide smiles and huge hugs. Through all that they've gone through, you see the incredible weight of responsibility that they carry. Kids here generally have a lot of responsibility in ways that we would never even think of doing in America. But, kids are still kids. It's moments like these that remind me of that.

I know that I'm forgetting about 5000 other cute moments but I'm tired and we're about to watch a movie and since it's Women's Day, I win. :) I'll try to keep this as a running topic though so I can share with you the other incredibly irresistible cute moments that I'm lucky enough to experience. Perhaps you'll fall in love with these kids just like I have.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Few Of My Favorite Things

While I could list for you quite a few of my favorite things (the pumpkin pancakes I made this morning would be hitting near the top of the list), there's parts of my life here that truly amaze me. One of my favorite parts of my job (my official admin. asst. job, that is) is seeing the relationship that is developed between sponsors and their kids. For many, it's just a $35 check that they write each month. For others, it's a chance to develop a relationship with a child in Uganda and truly be a part of changing their life. Part of my job has me going through the packages that sponsors send to their kids. I crazy love it. I love that they even care enough to send a package full of goodies that they want to give their child. I love that they write letters to them, pray for them and LOVE them. Even better, I love reading the letters that the kids write back to them. Many of the kids refer to their sponsors as "mum and dad" because for many of them, it's the only mom and dad they've ever really known. Gets me all teary.

An example of this amazing relationship came into my Inbox this week. One of our sponsors sent Christmas gifts to her three children back in December. The box was returned to her since the post office here never notified us of it and they sent it back. She went to her local post office and the below happened. Her story warmed my heart and with her permission, I share it with you now in hopes that you're also amazed at how the love of Christ can pour through so many:

After struggling as to why God would not allow this package to be delivered to our sponsored kids in the first place, He answered that question yesterday in a unique way as He allowed me to do a little "advertising" for Hope Alive at the post office yesterday. After being there at noon and getting the full explanation as to why the package was returned and what it would cost me to send it again, (I had to pay for the postage of it being sent back as well as the postage to send it again.), I returned and asked to speak with the postmaster who was in on the noon conversation. When she came around the corner and I told her I had decided to resend the package, she looked at me and said, " You realize you have to pay $38.81 to get it back plus $56 to send it again?" "Yes, I realize that." "You are willing to pay nearly $100 to resend this package with no guarantees that it will arrive and not be delivered? Why? Why would you do that?" I then pulled the three pictures of our kids out of my purse and put them on the counter. " Here are the three reasons why. How can I not send it again? They are waiting for their Christmas presents from us". With tears in her eyes, she turned and gave instructions to the postal clerk. I then gave her a DVD of our trip to Uganda 2 years ago as to which she replied, " I will make sure everyone in this office sees this." Who knows...maybe another sponsorship or two will come of this. At least I got my answer as to why the kids didn't get the package the first time sent. Dunlap post office needed to see the ministry of Hope Alive!

Oh, sorry, do you need a tissue? Because I might. I LOVE her love for these kids. Please join me in praying that these packages will AT LAST get to her kids but that above all, these kids will see the immense love of Christ that is flowing through their sponsor.

Life change is something that's easily seen here. This child's life was once like this but NOW it's like THIS. This child hadn't gone to school in years because of lack of money but NOW they're back in school. This child never knew anyone loved them but NOW they know about a God who loved them so much He would die for them, plus they have a mentor who is involved in their life and BONUS: they have a sponsor who, though thousands of miles away, loves them as well. Sponsors shrink the distance between them and the children of Uganda by being a part of this awesome life change. And I, the lucky one, get to see it. I encourage you all to sponsor a child. I wish words could do justice for the difference that you will make in a child's life. In this way, I wish you could see what I see. Pray about it. Seek His face. And change the world for Christ, one child at a time.