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Monday, January 30, 2012

An Uphill Battle

I am so glad that the battle belongs to the Lord.  Every day is a new adventure here in Teso Land, and some days the going is easy and others it's draining and hard work.  For the past few weeks I have had an internal struggle with trying to figure out what God really wants for my life.  How can I use my gifts, passions, and skills here in Soroti?  How can I teach others to work with purpose - with their time and hands, when so much of my time is spent building and encouraging relationships?  When will I really start working on the projects I know God has sent me to Uganda to do?  I wish I could audibly hear God's voice saying "Wait"... "Go"... "Do"... "Be". 
 The other night I joined a few friends and team-mates in climbing Ochiloi Rock.  This lonely rock is about a twenty minute drive from Soroti and a great place to exercise, relax, and watch the sun set.  Thankfully I know I am not alone in this city.  I have wonderful Ugandan friends, trustworthy and adored team-mates, and many great ministry projects on the horizon.  I am slowly beginning to learn that because I have come as a long-term missionary, I want to be certain that the mountain I am climbing for Jesus is the right one.  I want to spend my time, money, and energy on the right people!
 Today I spent over 8 hours with my team, discussing strategy and breaking up into small groups where we can really reach out to energize, encourage, equip and engage the local church to build transforming lives in the surrounding communities.  It was an intense afternoon as I chatted with a few other wing men to assess the needs and assets of Soroti town.  The needs are great - widows, street kids, beggars, mentally disabled and mentally ill, corrupt businesses, different religions, and poverty.  The assets are few, but at least there are some!!!  In town, at least, there is some money (compared to the villages) and there are a few churches (although how holistically Biblical is yet to be determined).  I am excited about feeling called to the downtown area of Soroti... so much so that I want to move into town and find a church in town... instead I have a place in "suburbia".  Not really suburbia, but definitely not the heart of the city.  :)
 But don't worry my friends, many days I have mountain top experiences.  I know that God is teaching and using me here everyday.  I know that Christ's name is being proclaimed and that already I can see some people's values changing.  I praise God for each new day and I delight in seeing how He chooses to fill those hours.
 Now another day has past.  The sun has just set over flat Teso land and the power has gone out.  Even as I sit alone in the dark, I know that my mind is full of ideas and possibilities.  The many children in the region are still calling out to my heart and I pray for the former child soldiers.  Use me Lord, use even me.
Hopefully though I will sleep well tonight, instead of being on guard like this owl... I need my rest.  It's HOT season right now - almost 115 degrees the past few days... and every task consumes energy. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Put on Pause

I wanted to send out a really creative blog tonight, but
1. The power went out yet again.
2. The battery on my laptop only lasts about 35 minutes.
3. The pictures I was trying to upload was coming across with funky lines and blue/green colours.
4. My cell phone keeps ringing... what else should people do in the dark but call a few friends.

I could tell you a few fun facts though:
1. My team-mates at least have a generator and are giving me some time to post this blog.
2. There are new vegetables in town.  I totally scored today at OM Supermarket.  Just this week a lady has begun to sell produce from Kenya.  Twice a week a bunch of us mzungus race to the store when we hear the truck has arrived... head lettuce, okra, eggplant, coconuts, green beans, leeks, green onions, spinach, broccoli, and more!!
3. My dog chases the rooster all around the yard like a Tom and Jerry episode.  The cock is getting very smart at darting into bushes and under cars just to buy a few seconds of time.  Too bad the rooster is going to be Monday's lunch.  Don't worry, I still have two cocks and seven hens to go.
4.  Yesturday I hit a bump on the road and the rear frame on my bike just fell apart.  Thankfully I was a hundred yards from a roadside bike mechanic.  I parked my bike under the mango tree, explained the problem to the repair man who had a tool box beside a shrub brush, and walked home with my fresh watermelon.  An hour later I walked back to pick up my "Hero" and the whole bill was about 35 cents. :)
5.  Hope you are having a great day!  Good night world.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dancing with the Sand

Another adventure into the unknown.
Traveling with Pius (the man who dreamed about naked evangelists) and my neighbour, Betty.
Destination: Kaberimaido
Purpose: to meet with 7 pastors to discuss an Evangelism Explosion course / training.
What does this have to do with dancing and sand?
Well, turning off of a nicely tarmacked road, I went south on a very sandy road.
Dust storms circled the car.
The Subaru would occasionally fish tail in the thicker trails, especially if I was passing a motorcycle or trying to overtake another big vehicle.
I actually enjoyed it... the ride was smooth, and I felt like I was driving in snow. 
My passengers thought it was like driving on the beach.
After a one hour journey, we pulled into the church compound and sat down for a well-organized meeting.  The pastors were very excited to have an Evangelism training and also were asking guidance on how to do children's ministry.  They want me to plan for a four or five day course and I'm super excited about it.  I even plan on staying in that village throughout the workshop time.
After one hour of discussion, the three of us hopped back in the car, popped in a worship CD and danced our way home in the sand.

Not According to Plan

My friends, Sam and Esther asked me to come to the village of Serere to meet with some church leaders there who were really hoping for some Biblical training and encouragement.  I was really nervous about the day because there didn’t seem to be a plan.  Sam told me not to worry, we were just going to meet with a few leaders to see what kind of training they would like and that the Holy Spirit would guide us.

Driving on back roads and sandy paths, after one hour we arrived at this small church made out of bricks and papyrus leaves.  The floor of the church was made of freshly smeared (but now hard and dry) cow dung, with designs drawn in to the dung to add beauty and design.  At first I saw 4 or 5 people and I thought – hey, this can work... let’s talk to the leaders and we’ll be home by 2 (we arrived at 10 am).  Sitting on one of the three chairs in the church, I smiled at the many children who were so excited that a visitor had come to their village.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that I needed to wait, since many more locals were coming... they didn’t truly believe a mzungu was coming to their church, so they worked in the gardens until they heard word of my arrival.  So, it was close to 11 am when the “service” began... During worship, Sam leaned over and asked if I could preach or teach to the crowd – “just something small”.  Woah – now I’m way out of my comfort zone.  Worship was energetic and entertaining.  Then the introductions began (this is one cultural tradition that always stretches my patience – why do I have to be introduced to every person in the church... after 3 or 4 people I forget their names anyways... and it takes up almost an hour of time during the service)and I patiently sat through all of the greetings.  Some were excited that a white person came – they have never seen or shaken hands with a white person before. 
Being in Serere is so different from being in Soroti... in Soroti, the children don’t stare as much or show fear in their eyes.  I broke the ice though with smiles and dance moves during worship – so the kids then felt comfortable staying super near to me all day. 
Just when I thought the service was underway, I was told that Sam, Esther, (their daughter Grace) and I needed to take a break.  The 40 or so people who were in the church were cleared out and a table was brought in to us, with sweet black tea and some plain white boiled sweet potatoes.  We took about 10 minutes to eat our snack before all the people (which I found out were from 3 churches) were called back in.  Yikes, this day was never going to end.  More worship, prayers, and then I was asked to come and speak.  Thankfully I had some sermon notes tucked in my Bible.  Sam was right – I was going under the wing of the Holy Spirit!!  I spent about 25 minutes talking about being a servant leader.  They never imagined that a person could be both a servant and a leader at the same time, until they saw the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet through new eyes. 
It’s now 2 pm... and I thought the service was going to end.  No – more worship, and introductions for those who came late.  The church had been filling up throughout the day.  Sam asked me to speak once again.  People have never tasted food like the Words I brought them, and it wasn’t fair for me to just wet their appetite.  Yikes – me?  Lord, really?  Okay – back to the Bible and so grateful for some points again written in my Bible.  I spoke on 1 Corinthians 13:5 – Love “is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”   I was grateful for Sam – who helped with all of the translating.  I knew that people were grasping the message when one man stood up and said “I never knew that people in the west also fight or hold bitterness.  I have now realized that I must forgive and try to love better.”  This same man went on to say that he felt convicted to stop placing curses upon other people’s lives and to love and bless them instead.  He asked for prayers to make this possible.

Well, after having mixed emotions about being there all day, I was glad to see that God had used me once again in spite of my stubbornness and impatience.  I’ve been challenged, stretched, and God’s name has been glorified.  The day finished at 4 when Sam started to see that I was worn out.  He told the leaders to close the program.  The hosts brought atap (local mushy bread made out of cassava and sorghum), rice, and the chewiest chicken ever for us to eat before we began our journey home again.
You should have seen the children chasing the car as I left Serere.  Too precious.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Bible for Sam

Sam is a university student studying botany and agriculture.  He is a hard-working young man who also happens to be the brother of my next door neighbour.  I have shared meals with my neighbours under the shade of their big mango trees while power was out and there's nothing to do but sit around and talk.  I cherish those times of really getting to know the people who live on the other side of my fence. 
One day, Sam and I were talking about church and school.  He said he likes going to church, but he can rarely go because his studies become all consuming.  He mentioned that the best thing that would help him would be a Bible.  Well, I took that to heart and prayed about it.  I really felt like I was supposed to give Sam a copy of God's Word. 
A few days ago, there were rumours that the neighbours were going to move because of a rental increase from their landlords.  They were even speaking of shifting the next day, so I was again prompted to follow up on that gift of a Bible.  I went to my room, grabbed a Bible, wrote a few notes of encouragement in the front cover and then delivered it to Sam.  With shock and joy in his eyes, he took this precious gift.  He said, "I'm not sure how to really say thank you!"  I told him the only way to really say thanks is to read the Book!
Sam just finished telling me that he reads the Bible every night and that it makes him feel good.  He feels closer to God.  It is my prayer that he also understands the salvation message of Christ and will follow God's instructions for holy living.  I'm just glad I gave him the Word I take for granted far too often. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

I'm not Lost

It is not unusual to hear a Ugandan friend say "You are lost!" if that person hasn't seen you in a while... sometimes even a matter of a few days means the world to them.  So yes, I guess I have disappeared for a while, but I am not lost.  :)  I have lots to talk about, but hopefully I can sum it up quickly for you.

A) Last Saturday I traveled down country (it took 7 hours) to Entebbe where I joined my whole team for an intense time of strategy (vision and mission) discussions, amazing worship, team dynamics and healthy conflict, and studied our personality ProScans.  It was really helpful to see how we need to related and understand eachother - whether facts or feelers, introverts or extroverts, etc.  Apparently I am an extrovert :) who often communicates in a "seller/persuasive" style.  I need to feel appreciated and don't like being left out, or it can be a demotivator.  Trust me, there is more depth to my personality than that, but it was a glimpse.
Sleeping at Garuga
Playful Monkeys
Team Beyond - with our UK and USA directors
The place we stayed at was called Garuga Beach Resort, and it was right on Lake Victoria.  I slept in a tent, along with my room-mates, Beckie and Jennifer.  The three of us had our own tent under a tree that had huge bird nests and small monkeys playing.  I fell asleep to the sound of the Lake crashing against the sandy shore.  So beautiful.  During breaks we could swim in a clean pool and two nights we built a fire down by the water.  The time away was a good combination of business and retreat.

B) Wednesday morning, I found myself loading back into the Tiesenga's van.  There was some tension in the air because we had heard rumours of riots in Kampala, but after a call to the Canadian Embassy, we decided to still go into Kampala to buy some much needed supplies - propane, bacon, pots, cheese, hotdogs, marshmellows, and cereal.  I wish I had bought molasses, cookie and muffin tins, wall tacks, and a spare tire.  It was a safe journey home, arriving at 8:30 pm.
This one is for you DAD!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Naked Evangelists

Yesterday I biked over to NACHU, a home to 22 orphans, run by my friends James and Norah.  The children were all excited when I biked in the gate, bringing two pumpkins with me for them to have for dinner.  (At the moment we've been collecting pumpkins and chickens from many of the friends who have returned to Soroti after spending the holidays in the village.)  I had been invited by Norah to join them for lunch - a simple meal of brown beans and rice, but I was grateful for the offer and company.

While the meal was being prepared, I took the time to have a long chat with Pius.  He is a young man who has such a heart for sharing God's Word and caring for God's people.  He also spends a lot of time caring for the many children that stay at Nachu. 

Already, a few weeks ago, Pius and I chatted about training children's leaders in a village where he has a lot of contacts.  He wants me to seriously consider going with him to the village to train the leaders and to do the Evangelism Explosion curriculum with the children.  Then a few days ago, Pius called to tell me that he'd had a dream and he wanted to share it with me.

He shared that in his dream he saw many children sitting outside the church, with nothing to do, no hope in their eyes.  The church leaders were all asleep on the benches inside the church, and there were a few evangelists standing at the front of the church with nothing on.  The naked evangelists were calling out for help, hoping that someone would come and help them put clothes on. 

That was the dream.  Pius said he spent much time praying about that dream, and he really feels that the children need to be a part of the church community.  He believes that the evangelists are willing, they just don't know how to clothe themselves with the full armour of God.  Pius said, "Karen, I know you are trained in evangelism.  Would you be willing to come and help train these leaders so the children can come to know Jesus?"

Wow, an open door for ministry.  I will definitely need help, because the language is Kumom, and I haven't studied even the greetings for that language, but I feel like this is one area where God is leading me.  We hope to begin in just a few weeks. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Real Salvation

I wanted to share one other glimpse into my conversation with Winnie.  Last Christmas Pastor George and Winnie were blessed with a trip to the UK (where their sponsors are for the primary school that they run) and their eyes were opened to the ways of the west.  The food, escalators, pets, movie theatres, day trips to the beach, etc.  Winnie realized that even though we make more money, the things we buy are also very costly and that some of us can honestly struggle to pay the bills.  At the same time we have so much. 

Winnie then went on to say, "Karen, I can't believe you actually want to come to Africa.  You gave up so much to come to our hot, dry, dusty place.  That means you are really saved."  Woah, 'really saved'?  I mentioned that salvation is easy really - if you believe that Christ died for your sins and you ask for his forgiveness, then you are saved.  "O ya, you're right", said Winnie.  "That means you are really called to love us then!"  I wasn't truly sure what to say.  All I know is that I am glad to be called to Africa.  It feels like home and I don't really feel like I have given up that much to come and relate to my Ugandan friends.

New Year's Day 2012

I found the mango tree back with no problem and was surprised to see at least 7 familiar faces amidst the crowd.  These lovely people greeted me with huge hugs and welcomed me back to Soroti.  The service was nice - with worship songs that have become familiar to me over time, but songbooks were also handed out and we surprisingly sang three old hymns.  I loved it.  The sermon was decent, coming from an untrained accountant, but it once again convinced me that Biblical studies across the board is needed in Uganda.  Too many verses are taken out of context - especially trying to promote a prosperity gospel.  Over and over I heard the speaker say he was hoping 2012 would be the year he receives his blessing from the Lord. 

After church my car was loaded with old ladies and young children, and I drove them all over to Pastor George and Winnie's compound.  Grass mats were laid out on the ground for the ladies to sit on.  They sit up straight, with their legs stretched out flat infront of them.  (I don't know how they do it... I can't sit so perpendicular or I get a back ache.)  The men collected plastic chairs and sat in a circle under the mango tree.  Two mango trees provide great shade for the whole afternoon.  It was absolutely precious to see one little boy follow his dad into the men's circle.  He was probably 3 or 4 years old, and he was wearing a black tuxedo with tails and a cumberbun. 

The ladies were trying to get me to sit with the men, so I could have a plastic chair, but then Winnie reminded them all that I was a kitchen mzungu.  Their faces lit up when they realized that I would help with preparing lunch.  Washing my hands from the water provided in a yellow jerry can, I quickly set to work peeling potatoes.  The out door kitchen was being put to full use.  Metal pots were filled - three over open fires and two on a charcoal stove.  White rice, rice pilaf, beef, chicken, cabbage, atap, and soups were being prepared... a true New Year's Day feast. 

Before the meal could be served we also had to collect dishes from a variety of locations and wash them all to remove the dust.  As Winnie and I were washing and rinsing we were able to have a deep conversation about the sermon.  The sermon had suggested that we link up with people who have more than us so that we have a chance to receive.  That's the part I struggled with the most... the speaker had suggested that the widow connected with Elijah so that food could be provided for the whole drought.  I thought that was opposite of how it really happened.  Elijah stayed with the lady because she had flour and oil, but really it was GOD who made it all multiply.  If the lady and/or Elijah lacked faith, they all would have starved. 

We started discussing blessings and what they could look like.  At first clothes, food and money were mentioned, but after challenging them to go deeper we came up with a great list - a smile from your husband, a child holding your hand, a hug from a friend, a note of encouragement, a prayer, a clean house, and so much more.  We are blessed in so many ways. 

I left George and Winnie's at 3:30 pm, knowing that I had been blessed by their company, the honesty and fellowship with the ladies, and the opportunity to share and probe just a little bit more.