28 January 2008

Dedication Day

Friday brought an emotional day of dedicating the buildings we had worked on. Each team joined together in song, laying hands on the walls we had built and praying blessing over the house, those who would live there, the local workers and each other. The local team of builders thanked us, reminding us that not only have we blessed the children who will live in this house, but we have blessed them by giving them work. Of course more tears were shed as we tried to say goodbye. Joseph was the local team forman dressed in blue (all team formen wear blue). Standing next to Rick is Isaac, quite a charming man who spoke Luganda with a British accent. He seemed to be in some sort of supervisory postion, but worked as hard or harder than anyone else. He explained to Rick that he picked up the accent while spending much time leading British treking crews, but we think that perhaps he has had some English schooling as well.

Here's the whole rowdy crew of us, the local team, Watoto staff and Visit Africa members that worked on Team AB. Still hard to believe that each one of us had laid a brick, spread mortar or in some other way had a hand in this house.

As we were building this week, the workers would always come around after us, cleaning up all of our messes, getting rid of excess mortar between the bricks, doing what needed to be done to make the walls smooth and beautiful. The Lord spoke to me through this, reminding me that in the same way, He comes along and cleans us up, making our broken lives into a thing of beauty, fit for His Kingdom.

27 January 2008

Teach the children well

"The Watoto schools follow national curriculum prepared by the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda. As per Watoto’s mission statement in part, ‘raising responsible Christians’ the schools do have Biblical integration at all levels of the schools. It is a God Centred Curriculum. Children with special needs and learning disabilities are also catered for, as are those who need to cope with the academic pressures (those who are old enough but have never been to school at all or have dropped out at some stage)." from Watoto's website.
The classrooms were bright and roomy with words of God on the walls. I was touched by the artwork made of pop bottle caps (yes, pop is served in glass bottles in Uganda) that graced the grounds around the classrooms. These children are being raised to live out the words of scripture: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5

26 January 2008

Back to work

Thursday found us back on the work site, amazed at how much had been done while we were off to Gulu. We tried to explain to our teamates that we were not slackers and that in many ways passing and laying bricks and all the other phsical labor would have been easier than the day we had. Harder on the body yes, but easier on the heart. We had a few people join us from the other teams who were finished at their sites. Since we were a day behind the local workers were going to have to work late to finish in time for us to dedicate the building on Friday.
It felt good to be finished and leave our work gloves behind knowing that the men (who usually worked in bare hands) would make use of them.
We went back to the guest house to shower off the work of the day and get dressed for an evening of feasting and celebration at Fang Fang, one of the finest Oriental restaurants in Africa and perhaps the world. http://www.fangfang.co.ug/restuarant.htm This was another thank you to us from Watoto. As we were directed into the room we were told to look for our names at the table. Instead of place cards, there were thank you cards and gifts. Small baskets for most of us and beaded key chains for the Australians who are not allowed to bring basketry back into their country. Watoto staff seem to pay attention to each and every detail as they strive to show their gratitude. We were joined by the pastors of KPC North who spoke words of thanksgiving and blessing over us. Once again I felt touched by guilt at the royal treatment we received. We who came to serve were being gifted and blessed and catered to. It was a delicious meal with dishes we had never tasted before presented in beautiful fashion. Dessert was fresh fruit served in watermelon shells that had intricate carvings of the words "thank you". Inside something was screaming "No.. we thank you" but God in His grace was teaching us to receive.

For the children of Gulu

Gulu children lost and forgotten,
living terrified in paradise.
Cannot trust in man. Cannot trust in God.
Will your silent cries fill the air around me?
Will the blood cry out?
Will the blood cry out?
Will needless shame cast your eyes down
as you pay for the sins of generations past?
Tender flowers picked too soon.
Young butterflies forced to fly
on wings that have not yet dried.
Will your hearts learn to heal?

I am leaving you now and returning to a life that you have never known. A life of safety and shelter. A life of peace and plenty. To days of freedom and nights without fear. Yes, it seems I am leaving you now but much of my heart will stay here. And on the rest of my heart, that part that remains with me, you are forever inscribed, etched by the hand of our Father. It is He Who brought me here. It is He Who shall bring me here again.

20 January 2008

Our day in Gulu continues

We had a wonderful lunch at a Gulu hotel restraunt that included a native dish of greens and sesame. It was a dish that the IDP camp pastor had been talking to us about. We were hot, tired and thirsty from our walk through the camp and I was thrilled to find Pepsi instead of Coke. The place seemed to be filled with other Mzungu and I could only assume that most were also there on humanitarian missions. We had to eat quickly and I was sorry to rush the meal, but time was slipping away from us. On the way out, Rick caught an amazing photo of this spider in a web by the doorway.
Our next stop was at an orphanage and school where we were meeting a teacher who was taking us home to meet her mother who started the school. When we arrived, there was a sea of purple uniforms that came rushing toward us. It seems that children were excited to see us, no matter where we went. One of our fellow team members Matt was filming our journey and the kids loved the cameras. They began to sing for us in unison. It was hard to tell who was more delighted, the kids or us! We all would have liked to spend more time with them, but our schedule was tight and Madam Laturo was expecting us.

We arrived at the Laturo's as they were finishing their mid-day meal. Without leaving their seats they welcomed us warmly and we all filed in and found places to sit. Madam Laturo was quite happy to tell us her story knowing that our hearts were already breaking for the children of Uganda. She told us that she would go out to the markets and streets, collect orphans and bring them home to live with her. When they numbered more than 100 her and her husband decided to start the orphanage and school with KPC’s help. The school now houses more than 1000 children. We were blessed to have her pray with us and for us, and few of us remained unmoved, most of us crying at the intensity of her prayer.Our last stop of the day was Laroo Boarding Primary School - For War Affected Children. This was built as a joint effort between Uganda and the Kingdom of Belgium. The mission of the school is “To restore dignity, self esteem and coping mechanisms to children who have suffered war related trauma so that they successfully be reintegrated into the community and live a normal life” We were able to spend time talking with the assistant headmaster of the school, who said they have accomplished much but only made a small dent in the need.

We were allowed to wander about the grounds and visit with some of the children. There were bright blue signs with white lettering all over. Their messages were deep and simple truths! We came across a baking class having their final exams and they offered Rob a sample of their work. He broke the small bun into pieces to share with us and I felt it would have been a profound time to share communion. We told the kids we gave them a grade of "A". There were shy smiles and the joyous sound of laughter. I sensed that those who were out and about have already received much love, counsel and support. There are many others who would likely not be as social.

18 January 2008

Journey to Gulu

Our eighth day in Uganda. Eight is the number of new beginnings and this the 28th day of November 2007 finds me up early, ready to leave for Gulu, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm. I am surrendering to God's leading, knowing I am supposed to go but not quite certain of the reason. Last night I prayed to be open to whatever He would show me. I also came to realize last night that each one on this team is called for a different reason to this land and will be used in different ways. God has a plan! Open my eyes, my ears, my heart and my spirit Lord. Speak in whatever way You chose.

KPC Gulu held their first service in August 2007. The building was originally intended to be a hotel, but it sat unfinished and empty for some years. Another of God’s blessings. The walls were decorated in a simalr fashion to KPC Central in Kampala and the space felt open and clean. From Rick's journal "Great news, in only a few short months the church is overflowing, there are over 400 people attending and now they are looking at extra services"

Next stop was Bohma Fields. This is where the Ugandan president's palace was. I believe it has not been used since Idi Amin. We could see the Sudan border far off on the horizon, I knew that our government warns us about being in that area, but also knew beyond knowing that God was watching and guarding us. For as it is promised in Isaiah 58:8 "then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard."

From Rick’s journal "Idi Amin executed many people here. The land cries out for redemption. The blood cries out for redemption. KPC would like to buy the land and build a new church there"

Now that’s what we’d call redeeming the land! It’s hard to try to describe the spiritual feeling of this place, many of us simply wept, then we held hands and prayed. I felt to declare that laughter would return to this place.

More than 30,000 children have been stolen from their homes and forced to join the LRA, where they were brainwashed and placed on the front lines. Children, some as young as 8, were forced to participate in acts that have destroyed their own families and communities. Children were also ordered to kill those who tried to escape. If they refused, they risk death themselves. Little girls were sold as sex slaves, traded for weapons or given as gifts to rebel commanders. Children made up over 90% of the LRA. Children that were still free would walk each evening for miles to find some safety behind gates at this Night Commuter Centre. For more info about these invisible children, check out http://www.invisiblechildren.com/about/history/

Next we were honoured to be led through an IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camp by the pastor who runs it. 20 years of struggle are evident on his face.

It is recorded in my journal on 2-february-2003 – "a vision in the middle of the night: The Lord, my Lord said “Walk with Me. Walk with Me” and I said “but Lord I’m tired” and He kept calling “walk with Me” “But I’m tired Lord” “Walk with Me – I’ll take your burden. My yoke is easy, My burden is light” and so we walked – through sewers - and starving people were everywhere and forever – but He said all they needed was to know Him – He was there for them, He died for them. They only need to know Him. “Walk with me” " There were places in Kampala and Gulu that were the same scenes the Lord showed me in that vision almost 5 years ago. He already knew then where we would be going, what we would be doing and what we would be seeing on this trip, and was already preparing me. What an amazing God!
We were told that 51% of Uganda's population is 14 years of age or younger. It was familiar and heartbreaking to see babies taking care of babies. We never knew if these were siblings, their own children or other kids left alone needing care. In the midst of all this there were still smiles and the sound of laughter. There were girls that curtsied when I said hello. They were surprised and charmed when I did the same to them in return. As Rick wrote in his journal “It was a saddening, eye-opening sight and most amazing of all there were many who looked at us and greeted us with joy. Yes the huts were touching each other, people were barely getting by, there were health issues and other issues of too many people in too small an area, but even here, there was a small market, a sewing machine and children going to school. There IS hope. I am moved by the joy on the faces of the people we meet even though their predicament is one of hopeless poverty, whether in a town, a village, an IDP camp or a minimal job.” We were blessed indeed to catch a picture of a smile on the pastor's face as he sat to chat with someone he seemed to know well.

14 January 2008

Time to start working

At first, the plan for the November 2007 global team was to build a teacher’s house. When more people than expected became involved it was decided to split into two work teams. Team A’s project was the second story of a teacher’s house. As part of Team A, we spent the first day passing bricks, both on the ground and up on the scaffolding. Michael, a tireless team member spent the day pushing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar up the ramp to the second level in the hot sun.

Team B's classroom was being built from the ground up.
After the first day of work we all recognized that there were more workers than we needed on each team. More local workers were hired and people were pulled from each team to form Team AB. On Day 2, We became part of this new team to build a family home.

Day 2 was a good days work. We all moved bricks. We all laid bricks. We all moved bricks again. There was a great rapport between our team and the local workers. We taught each other words in our own languages, sang together, prayed and laughed. Oh yes, we did laugh. Because I was quoting scriptures such as Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I was dubbed the "team preacher".

Then there was the song I made up to the tune of "We Will Rock You". Standing in a line passing on the bricks, got to get it done let's get on with it. We will, we will build it (grunt) build it (grunt) We will, we will build it! Sun is getting hot and we start to sweat and it isn't even nine-thirty yet. We will, we will build it (grunt) build it (grunt) We will, we will build it!

Sunday - Church at last!

I am sorry that I told Rick not to bring his camera to church at KPC. I would have loved pictures of the worship platform, the huge choir arrayed in vivid colors. I wept as I sang and clapped and lifted my hands through an hour of abandoned worship. My desire is to live with reckless abandon, totally sold out to my Lord and Master. Isn't that why I'm here? Can I say again today "let me die to myself and live for His glory"

After the service we met and shared lunch with more Watoto staff members and received additional information about our mission and the Watoto vision. The opportunity seems to be arising to travel to Gulu and catch more of the vision for bringing the love of Jesus to that region. I know the way my spirit leapt last summer when I first heard KPC had planted a church there and had plans for a village and a receiving/restoration centre for those children stolen away, forced to kill and commit other atrocities. I knew that my heart wanted to be a part of it all. The trip will be an extra expense and I wept again to know of the extra cash we had stowed away and we could indeed use it and God would take care of us.

Tomorrow we begin to build! I am excited and scared all at once. I am in His hands and need to trust His strength, not my own.

Day trip to Jinja

On day 4, Saturday November 24 we travelled northeast to Jinja. Some team members had left early in the morning on another bus to go whitewater rafting on the Nile or quadding along the banks. Those of us who were a bit less brave chose a tamer day. We were planning a boat ride to the source of the Nile and some craft shopping. The drive was beautiful and took us through fields of tea, sugar cane and a national forest.

We had our first view of the Nile and chose to cross the easy way, not over the foot bridge.

As Rick always says “Man proposes and God disposes” and our plans for the day were changed when Prince Harry and other royalty decided to tour Jinja and the source of the Nile. Various dignitaries and Heads of State were still in the area after CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). Security turned everyone else away but because the reputation of KPC and Watoto are so strong we were allowed to walk in the park for a few minutes, then it was decided that EVERYONE who did not have a name badge or credentials had to leave. I was amazed at people's reactions to royalty, both the locals lining the streets and my fellow team members. The excitement and expectations built as each moment brought them closer. Growing up as a citizen of the United States I found it a bit hard to comprehend. I have never been much of a celebrity follower either. At one moment I felt like shouting "Hey, we serve ONE God".

Obviously God did have other plans for us and we were able to visit Amani Baby Cottage and spend some time with the children there.

Amani, unlike Watoto desires the children to be adopted. Some have been reunited with family members after circumstance have improved and they are able to care for them. Whereas The Bulrushes babies move on to Watoto villages when they are around two years old, there were many older babies and children at Amani.

Here's Jeanette, a preemie who at four months old was tiny, frail and dealing with breathing difficulties. It was hard to turn way from her, so captivating were her eyes. I am certain that the hearts of those who run Amani are in the right place and the work they are doing is to be praised, but my spirit sensed more disquiet and less joy than what I felt at The Bulrushes. I think it is because the children at Amani are waiting for a home and family. The babies at The Bulrushes already have a home with Watoto.

When we left the babies we went back to the river, and now were allowed to wander about around the area of Bujagali Falls. I think my first whitewater experience will be somewhere less turbulent, but those who participated enjoyed themselves and have lifelong stories to tell.

12 January 2008

Communities around Bbira & Suubi

Accommodations at Watoto villages, though humble, are 5 star compared to the surrounding areas. There is much to be praised about all the "green space" at Bbira and Suubi. Here is a typical home outside one of the villages. Likely many families share this space.

As our bus traveled down the surrounding village roads we created quite a lot of excitement. Waving, shouting, laughing kids were always happy to greet us. The shouts of "mzungu” (white people) will forever echo in our hearts and spirits.

Here is a typical butcher shop in a poorer area of town.

Our day ended with a team meeting under the gazebo. It was a time of sharing, each one taking a turn to tell the story of how God brought them here. I was often in tears as were many others. God indeed has a plan for each of us and is changing all of our hearts. We will not be the same people when we leave this place.

First visits to Bbira and Suubi

Friday November 23rd was our third day in Kampala. While we were settling in and waiting for more team members to arrive we had the chance to take a drive and tour two of the Watoto children's villages. Our first stop was Bbira(the village where we would be building).

Here some children that are training for one of the choirs were happy to sing and dance for us.

Green was the predominant colour and no matter which way we turned there were views that amazed us with their beauty. There was a eucalyptus forest at one end of the Bbira soccer field. These little ones are truly blessed to live surrounded by the glory of His creation.

The medical clinic at Bbira is staffed by nurses, with rooms for dental visits as well as medical. The lab is unstaffed as they are waiting and trusting God for a lab technician. One of our hosts and a few team members were treated at the clinic during our week of building. For the rest of us, we made good use of the two bathrooms!

Suubi translates to "hope" in English and my spirit could breathe in hope in this, the most developed and beautiful of the children's villages on a hill. Here the houses are built in rows, each row a stairway above the last.

We were excited to hear that Watoto reaches out to others. Children from the communities around the Watoto villages have the opportunity to attend these schools. Many of these children would otherwise receive no formal education. There are also children who have parents able to pay for their education. These extra funds are used for building and other provisions.
Here is the Production Centre for the vocational school. Woodwork and metal work is taught here and the results are used in the schools and villages. Brick work (making and laying bricks) is also taught, as is sewing, with school uniforms and children’s clothing being produced on site, another step toward a self sustaining village.

After our tour of Suubi we were set free to wander about and meet the children and mothers. I know that it was God's hand that guided me to the house we first stopped at. The girls and mom were outside hanging their laundry on the line to dry and as they said hello they introduced themselves. One of the girls said her name was Annette. Excitedly, I asked if she was the same Annette who had come to Canada with the choir. She said she was not, but that that Annette lived at Suubi also and she told us the house number and pointed out which direction we should go.

What a joy to find Annette and meet her house mom and one of her sisters. She stayed in our home when her choir was a Mountain View Christian Assembly almost two years ago. We remembered her a lot better than she remembered us, understandable when the kids are on the road for six months at a time. The other girl that had stayed with us was named Grace but we were not able to meet her as she lives in a different village. When we talked about our dog "Faith" Annette remembered a bit more because Grace has a sister named Faith too.