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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Returning to Soroti

A week ago already, I was in Mbarara, in south-western  Uganda, spending time with my Sikh friends and encouraging baby Joy and family in the hospital.  I wanted to share a few more shots of my time there before telling you of my time back here in Soroti.
 Here I am with Jasi, Armaan, and Noor... and LakeView Resort Hotel... a little getaway
 The ducks were beautiful
 Sam, Esther, and Joy were ready to leave Ruharo Eye Centre
 I know it was God's plan for Joy to receive treatment from this amazing place!  Friday morning we were discharged and quickly found our way to the bus station so that we could begin the journey to Kampala.
 In Kampala, another awesome friend picked us up, organized a guest house for us to sleep in, and invited us over for dinner.  It was extra special for me because I got to meet his two week old daughters.  (I'm meeting lots of twins now days - kind of cool!!)
Then, arriving home, life is anything but normal.  My electricity had wrongfully been cut off for 5 days, so my kitchen smelled like dead rat.  It took three days to get the power back and the fridge completely cleaned out.  I am babysitting kittens who just opened their eyes two days before they were given to me... so for four days I am feeding them milk from a syringe.  I have been catching up with friends in town and organizing a music night for tonight.  A few nights ago I was invited to eat supper with my Hindu friends in town.   The food was yummy and the conversation was insightful and pleasant.  The gods are very important to my friends, but it makes me so grateful that I serve and know the One True God. 
Wow, this is kind of a random post, but I just wanted to share.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Joy's Journey - The Beginning

     Last week I received a phone call from my team leaders that my namesake had a tumor in her eye.  I'm not sure if you know or remember, but in April a baby girl was born and the parents wanted me to name the baby.  Karen means "pure" and since their first daughter was called "Divine Grace", I found it very fitting to name this baby "Pure Joy".  Well, the doctors in Soroti said that Joy had cancer in the eye and they wanted to remove the eye the very next day and send it to Kampala.  My team leaders called me one morning to ask if I was free the following week.  They/we thought it would be better to take Joy to Kampala, rather than her eye.  So on Sunday afternoon, the parents met me in Mbale (where I had been camping for two days) and we began our journey south to Kampala.
     Sunday night we settled into the guest house and then first thing Monday morning we walked over to the International Hospital of Kampala (IHK).
At IHK the doctor quickly decided that we needed to see a proper eye doctor, so within moments we were given the name of a great doctor and sent off to Mengo Hospital.  The line ups were long and we could have spent over 3 hours in the waiting room, but because we had  consultation form, we were bumped straight to the doctors office.  The doctor said we needed to be very concerned.  Joy definitely had retinoblastoma.  He did have good news though.  There is a hospital in Mbarara, some four hours away by bus, that we should immediately go to, because it is the only place in all of East Africa that has treatment for this eye cancer.  AND... it happens to be that this is the week for the treatments, which is run once a week.  The Mengo doctor called ahead to Ruharo Eye Centre and the doctor said he would wait for us. 
In a daze, we went back to the guest house and began our journey to Mbarara.  I called my Sikh friends (my good friends who moved away from Soroti last fall) and they were so excited that I was coming to Mbarara.  After a 4.5 hour wait at the bus park, we finally traveled 240 km to Mbarara, where we were met by my friends.  They arranged for a taxi for me to take Joy and family to the hospital.  The German doctor had been communicating with us throughout the day, and they were getting a hostel room ready for the family so that Joy could have surgery the next morning.
I stayed with my sweet friends at the Sikh temple.
Closing the doors of the temple, I felt like Maria (Julie Andrews)
 being locked into the Abby at night.
     Organizing with the nurses, we began pre-surgery checkups and were informed of the process. It was really tough to watch Joy being carried into surgery, but we went outside to pray and talk.  The grounds of the hospital are very pretty and the staff is so friendly.  The eye clinic is sponsored by the German government, the Lion's Club and the Christian Blind misson.  There are no costs for children who struggle with Retinoblastoma because the program is part of a German study for this kind of eye cancer.  We were shocked that the surgery, chemo, and medicines were all free.  Praise the Lord.
     Around 1:30 pm we were called into surgery and we found a very difficult scene.  Sam, the father, needed to sit down after seeing his daughter, her very dilated eye, and hearing the doctor's words.  They showed us her eye, filled wall to wall with cancer.  If the doctors had removed her eye without chemotherapy reduction, there is a 50% chance that she would be alive in just a few months.  The doctor said that because the cancer was so aggressive, and had already caused Joy to go blind in the right eye, they would still have to remove the eye, but not until 2 or 3 rounds of chemo had been administered.  Just to make sure the brain or optical nerve are also not affected.  The doctor said we had much need to be worried and concerned and he showed us pictures with children who were given plastic eyes.  Thankfully Joy's left eye is cancer free and perfectly fine.  We spent the rest of the day with a groggy girl who was trying to wake up from the anesthetic.

The following day chemotherapy reduction began. Joy is definitely a fighter. I had to do a full restraint on a 9 month old just to get the IV, along with the mother. Then there was 6 hours of entertaining her while she was hooked up to chemo.
Esther's best line:  I wish this was a leaking jerry can,
the water would have been finished long time.  But now
we still have one hour to wait for IV drip.
While waiting for the chemotherapy to finish, Sam, Esther and I created a praise list:
  • A ride from a team-mate (Beckie) to Jinja, part of the journey to Kampala
  • IHK - didn't waste time, sent us straight to Mengo hospital
  • Andonai - the guest house, gave us a room discount and are praying for us
  • Food was availabe when we arrived at Adonai the first night
  • Three seats together on both the taxi and bus rides that we took
  • Indian friends in Mbarara arranged a taxi for us to the hospital
  • Dr. Wadell organized the hospital hostel for Sam and Esther
  • I had a lovely room at the Sikh temple
  • An overwhelming sense of peace
  • Doctors were very clear in the process
  • Joy's left eye is perfectly OK!!
  • Doctors did not remove the eye in Soroti
  • Another foreigner, from Colorado, spent time praying with us after the surgery
  • Many testimonies were shared with other parents of children who have retinal blastoma
  • A private room in the ward
  • Indian food!
  • Friends praying around the world
  • Ruharo eye centre
  • I could help my friend Raji also see an eye doctor at the clinic... since I knew the system.  :)
  • Colorado churches called to say they were praying for us.
  • Joy is a fighter
  • People in the west are praying for us
  • Unbelievably strong parents
  • A time of worship in the rooms
  • A decent night after chemo treatments.  Nurses thought it would be much worse.
  • God is Awesome!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Time Flies

Just last week, I was home in Soroti - living and serving a normal life, but then I heard that my sweet neighbour boy, Victor, was in the clinic receiving treatment for Malaria.  I made sure that I went to spend the morning with him - entertaining him while he waited for his drip (IV) to finish.
Leaving the clinic, I raced over to have lunch with Jesca... she was one of the girls in my Princess Bible study from 2009.  Lately we have been reconnecting through various youth and children's programs.  She is a very sweet young lady, who is now a teacher and also works with some Compassion International children.  It has been so cool to see her heart for God blossom over the years.  Jesca was surprised that I would accept a lunch over to her humble home, but I was even more shocked when she handed me a Christmas present as I was departing her home.  When I got back to my house, I opened the box to find a comb, a LOVE bracelet, a notebook, a green necklace and a neon green headband with white polka dots.  :)  Too precious.

After that, I received two phone calls that changed my week.  First... would I want to go camping in Mbale for the weekend.  Yes!!  Two days getaway would be great.  A time to relax and pray.  And then the second phone call was about baby Joy... and would I be free to take this baby and her family to Kampala to get her tumorous eye examined by the city doctors.  Absolutely.  I didn't have to rearrange much on my schedule to take off down country.... see the next blog post for details.
Foot washing ceremony after hiking... thanks Avalien and Zulea!
Sisiyi Falls
Camping in the Garden of Eden

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dreaming of or Pursuing Purpose

Another speaking engagement swallowed my day yesterday, but more than that... it gave me nights of restless sleeping.  I was asked a few weeks ago to speak at a youth prayer retreat - for the Sport's Outreach Ministry.  I was excited to share once again, especially since I knew a few of the youth from the youth camp held earlier in December.  The theme of "It's Time to Possess Your Dream" was given, and the Biblical reference, surprisingly was Genesis 37:5-11.  Who picks these passages I wonder?  What do Joseph's two dreams of sheaves, sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him, and his brothers extreme hatred and jealousy, have to do with possessing our dream? 

I tried to do a lot of research for this time of sharing, but knew that I had to share the whole life of Joseph, who happens to be a favourite Bible character of mine.  Yes, Joseph had those dreams when he was 17, but they were not fulfilled until the age of 39.  So does that mean we shouldn't dream?  No... it just means that we need to keep being a person of integrity, honesty, patience.... and above all - trusting God first.  If it is a dream from God, He will bring it to completion.  And I also realized that the dream wasn't for Joseph to say "Ha, I told you so... but so that his brothers could recognize the Lord's goodness in the whole plan.... especially after Joseph was unbelievably broken and forgiving when they were reunited.  Add those to the list of ways you need to live - humble, compassionate and forgiving. 

Now you may be wondering why I would let such a passage bother me... but here are some other factors going on in my life and thoughts.  Some of you may not know this, but I didn't think much about foreign missions as a child, because I truly struggled with home-sickness... to the point of getting physically sick, but when I was a freshman in college I met some people from East Africa and my whole sheltered world changed.  I started to pray that God would send me to Africa to serve and love His people there.  I didn't know what I really wanted to do... so I studied a broad Bachelors degree - in Youth, Evangelism, and Education, with a minor in Sociology.  Goodness, that ought to cover a few things.  But mostly, in my head, I kept thinking... I want to love God and His people... and I want to do that mostly in Africa. 

Well, now I'm here.  I still love God and I sure do love His people.  And people back home are very supportive that I finally made it to my beloved Africa.  I was 33 when I reached this hot continent and in many ways I feel like I have reached my life goal.  But with the dawn of a New Year, people love to ask - what are you dreaming of for this year?  Do you have any goals?  My answers were also - to love God and participate in any work that He is clearly calling me to do... whatever comes I will do.  But my Ugandan friends don't necessarily like that answer.  What do you mean?  Don't you have dreams of running an orphanage, or opening a school, or building some sort of institution?  What are you really doing here?  Well, those words are hard for me.  Am I doing enough?  Should I be doing more?  Should I be praying about a BIG project, or is it okay to continue encouraging and training in the churches - in regards to youth/children/evangelism - and visiting the sick and befriending the lonely and living a Christian life that is proclaimed 7 days a week. 

Do you see my struggle here?  I don't want to start a program just because that's what many foreigners come to Africa to do.  I don't want to take away a job or a potential ministry for the local church to be providing - since they are the ones who are seeing the needs.  But I feel like I'm not doing enough.  It's great being a People Person... but I also have a Hard Work ethic that is somehow hiding right now.  Pray for me to have a DREAM this year... even if that means God is calling me to a new people group or in a different direction than serving Him in Soroti town.  I'm going with God.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Confusing Day - Heart Wrenched

     I want to share a story with you about how tough ministry can be here sometimes.  Yesterday, a young man called and asked if he could come over.  He had something to ask me.  When he arrived, I tutoring others on how to build a blog, so he sat on the couch, trying to wait.  He looked visible shaken.  He was shaking his fingers and breathing hard through a puckered mouth.  For a bit, he walked around outside, and then he called me to come out.  He really needed to talk.  This young man is around 19 years old and I have "known" him since 2009.  He is a part of the CAAF (Children Affected by Armed Forces) group that I sometimes work with.

     The story started with how he had gone home to the village just after Christmas.  He said he just arrived back in town because he had been kicked out of the village home.  He gave a strong story about how there had been a fight at home.  His drunken father had come back to the compound to find that rice and beans were cooking over the fire.  This son was sticking up for the mother, saying that there was no money for meat.  A child is not allowed to challenge his father, so a beating resulted.  The father then told him he was no longer his son.  He was rejecting him.  This young man had been staying with an Auntie in town, but he said that the father told his sister, the Auntie, to kick this boy out of her home also.  With tears in his eyes, he sat on my steps and showed me a letter that he had picked from home just before he left.

     There were no names, but it was dated for New Year's day... and it looked to be from the mother's perspective - it said things like - how can you reject this son that I so painfully carried and gave birth to?  He is our son.  He has caused pain, but how can you do this to me?  Those are not the exact words, but that was the theme of the letter.  He just continued to sit there, very emotional - slumped over with tears now rolling down his cheeks. 

     He asked me if I had any advice.  Yikes, where do I begin.  I started to ask him more questions and his answers started to sound funny.  I told him that I wanted to contact his CAAF leaders, who were very good friends of mine and he didn't want me to.  When I told him that we would take one day at a time he stated that "I would rather have died in the bush with Joseph Kony."  He also didn't want me to pray with him - which wasn't normal. 

     He then walked away.  Twenty minutes later he called me and told me he should not have told me anything... this was his story to bear.  But forty minutes later, when I walked out of my compound to dump my rubbish in the dumpster up the street, I found him moping under a tree.  He just sat there, with is socks, shoes, and shirt off.  His head was hung low, but he didn't want to talk. 

     I tried calling the CAAF leader, but he didn't answer his phone.  A few hours later, this young man came back to my doorstep and said "Auntie, do you have any last words - this will be our last conversation."  In my mind I'm thinking he is speaking suicidal words.  I needed to get another Ugandan's perspective and preferrably male.  I again called the CAAF leader and didn't get an answer, but I sent a text saying that this boy was in a desperate situation at my house and he needed to come over right away.  In order for me to stall for time, I told the kid to have some juice, and let me finish my year end receipting before we went to find him a place to stay for the night.  Just as I finished my office work, my dear friend - the CAAF leader, pulled up on his motorcycle.  I gave him a quick rundown of the story and then together we approached the young man.  Leaning against the cement wall, the young man started to sweat.  Thankfully the neighbour kids didn't disturb us, they knew something was up because the young man looked so sad.

     The CAAF leader had the phone number of the boy's mother, so we called her to wish her a Happy New Year and to find out how things were at home.  She mentioned that her son was being stubborn now days, but for the most part things were fine.  We gave her our perspective of the story, and she agreed there had been a fight, but that he still has a place to come home to.  The boy no longer looked at us.  His answers weren't adding up at all.  We asked if we could go speak to his Auntie and he said she wasn't home.  Within moments he said, "Well, I guess I'll just go now" and he took off.

     I debriefed for a bit with my friend and he thinks this young man wasn't even a former child soldier - just a really good story teller.  Hours later I heard that the mother had called my friend back... saying that her son was really traumatized and she got the story wrong and we really needed to help him.  Around that same time, the kid had called me to say "Good day Auntie.  Bye!" and then he hung up.  So strange.  Such a shame.  The whole thing seemed to be a scam, but we don't even know what the young man wanted, besides attention.  My heart is confused and I'm sad to say that there is yet another person that I don't trust in this town.  I hate not trusting, but it has to be that way.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Day Night

After spending an eventful day with my clan - a day full of cooking chickens and sharing a time of prayer - I was ready for bed.  I headed for bed at 10:30 pm, but was concerned about sleeping in my room because it still had a thick scent of BOP (like Raid) wafting through the air.  Earlier that day I had sprayed some pesky termites in the room and thought all would be well by evening. 
After an hour and a half of sleeping I woke up coughing and had a runny nose.  The odor (and probably poison) was too much for me to handle.
I thought I should skype my family back home (while they were having a New Year's Day party) while I set up a bed in the living room.  I grabbed a mattress for the spare room and after a wonderful skype call I crawled back into bed.  It is now 12:45 am.  I needed to finish a novel to clear my thoughts of home... especially after one aunt asked if she could come and visit.  I was imagining all the wonderful things we could do together.  I've never had a visitor from home, so it would be a grand adventure.  Then I realized I couldn't sleep, and I needed Bones, my teddy bear to cuddle.  When I tried to get back into my bedroom the door wouldn't open.  That has never happened before, but just realized that I have never closed the door from the outside before.  So at 1:15 am I am fiddling with tools and taking apart the whole handle so I can get back into my room.  I finally get Bones and crawl back into my temporary bed.
I am almost asleep when a mosquito buzzes around my ears.  I hate mosquitoes and knowing that it might carry the malaria virus I had to get up again and set up a mosquito net tent.  Why didn't I do that in the first place?  Ai Yi Yi.
2:30 am and I finally start to fall asleep peacefully.  Oh, Happy New Year!