Thursday, March 31, 2011

Uganda Stories: Giving More

 Our team organizing lots and lots of donated supplies
(photo courtesy of my wonderful teammate, Katie Hobson)
One of my favorite nights in Uganda was towards the end of our trip when we sat down as a team to decide how to use the overage money that we had raised for our trip. Personally, for Devin and I, God provided for our trip expenses in some really cool ways - above and beyond what we needed. As a team, God gave us over $9000 combined extra and we were able to hugely bless the ministries that we worked with in Uganda. It was so great. If I could spend the rest of my life giving away $9000 worth of blessings every day to needy people, I would be one happy camper.

This was cash donations in addition to the 40+ mattress we raised money for and the 20+ suitcases we brought with us which were full of supplies - shoes, clothing, deodorant, diapers, school supplies, etc. How awesome to be able to give so much back and what a neat experience to decide how to tangibly blessed all of the wonderful ministries we had served and fallen in love with over the week. Here's all we were able to do through God's abundant provision:

  • Five, one-year sponsorships for five of the orphans living at Canaan (covers food, care and school fees)
  • One, one-year scholarship for an older child who has "graduated" from Cannan and is on their own now trying to pay for life and college (at 18-years-old)
  • A gift of $200 for newly-weds and amazing staff members George and Sylvia
  • A gift of $100 for our incredible cook Annette who is a sweetheart-and-half and works so hard to send her two children to school (but only gets to see them twice a month)
  • A gift of $50 to each Auntie and Uncle at the orphanage (the incredible people who live with and help raise all the children at Canaan)

  • One full-sized loom 
  • A double supply of thread 
  • (the above will be used for the branch of the ministry that helps rehabilitate prostitutes by teaching them a trade skill)
  • A full term of school for the children sponsored through Return Uganda 
  • Six months rent for the house these children live in 
  • A gift of $400 for the feeding program that provides meals to over 300 children in the community

  • A gift of $1000 to be used where most needed (probably for food and to cover school fees of children whose parents can't afford it, which is the vast majority of the 400 kids who attend the school)

GOD IS GOOD! And what a blessing to be a part of doling out all these blessings!
Looking forward to telling you more about our experiences falling in love with each of these ministries. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tids and Bits of Uganda

I'm still not quite sure how to tell all the stories that we were privileged to be a part of during our trip to Uganda. There are so many and I'm trying to figure out when and how to tell what and which. It will come eventually. But for now, there are a few things I can put to words tonight:

Our team was amazing. Seriously the best group of people I have ever traveled with (I've traveled with quite a few). No complaining, no bickering or attitudes, everyone got alone great and each person was always willing to jump in and serve wherever their help was needed. 

God handpicked some incredible people to be a part of this team, including Faith, who has a deaf daughter and was able to sign with a couple of the deaf orphans we worked with (wow! was that heartwarming to watch.) Dianna and Jeff, who each had years of children ministry (teaching and music) under their belts and were able to lead our VBS sessions with tons of heart and energy. Katie and Anne, who always had a sea of children around them (seriously - they were kid magnets) and never seemed to loose the energy to smile, love and play with all of them. Welch, our southern gentleman who took such good big-brother-style care of all that gals and set up WiFi for the orphanage (hello!) Everyone - Bret, Simon, Stephanie, Kim, Shelby, Ron, Angie, Maddie, Brenda (and Devin :-) - brought something incredibly special to our team and it was amazing to see such a clear example of the different parts of the body of Christ working so seamlessly together. 

The children we worked with were some of the sweetest I've ever met. Not only were they (for the most part) polite, eager to learn, full of smiles, fun, silly, cuddly and adorable, they were such little love sponges. I know the reason behind their deep need for love is a sad one, but even so, it was such a joy to shower love on those precious kids and receive back their eager love tenfold. Being able to tell them that they are made in God's image and because of God's love for them they are never truly orphaned, was so beautiful.

Pictured left is my little love sponge Jane. She lives at Cannan's Children Home and was my little shadow the whole week. She'd wait for me when we had team meetings/meals, and come running to me with the biggest smile on her face every morning. The first time I met her, she fell asleep in my lap within an hour of our introduction. Melt. My. Heart. She fell asleep in my arms two other times and once I got to carry her to bed and tuck her in. I love this sweet girl and it was so hard to leave her.

The adults who cared for these children were unbelievable and the influence that their love and discipleship has on these kids is so obvious. For the most part we worked with children who are being (in some form or fashion) cared for by a group of Christian adults, but occasionally we would have some of the neighbor kids join our group. The difference in behavior between these children and the children that had positive adult influences was night and day. It was bittersweet to see - wonderful to see what a difference those adults were making in the lives of the kids they serve, but sad to see how many children were still without that influence. I'll talk more about each of these leaders and their work in future posts.

More to come soon, but right now I don't think I can fight off the jet lag any longer. Good night and fingers crossed that I don't wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 2:00am for the third morning in a row...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Back from Uganda and feeling... umm...

After 40 straight hours of travel, Devin and I arrived safely and gratefully home from Uganda on Wednesday night. There is so much to tell and so many awesome, though bittersweet, moments to relive for you through stories, photos and video, but right now I need a few days (weeks?) to process everything and readjust to life here. There is just so much running through my mind that I think I might just short-circuit if I don't take some time to mentally rest.

I'm feeling all sorts of conflicting emotions - energized, but jet-lagged. Excited, but sad. Happy to be home, but missing some especially special kiddos. Knowing some things for certain and wondering about a whole lot more. 

There is so much to tell. The next couple of months here on the blog will be full of all sorts of stuff that will make you giddy. Stay tuned. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Off We Go!

Please pray for Devin and I as we travel to Uganda, Africa (March 11-23rd) to love on some beautiful orphan children there. I'm so looking forward to sharing our experiences with you when we return! (I will not have much, if any, internet access while in Uganda, so you'll have to wait for all the stories until we get back.) 

Thank You to everyone for all the support, prayers and words of encouragement that you've pour out on Devin and I over the past few months while we prepared for this trip - we have been so incredibly blessed by you! God has used you in unbelievable ways in our lives. Thank you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Uganda Update: Royal Hope Academy

We leave for Uganda THIS Friday! 

Day 11
Ministry Spotlight: Royal Hope Academy

Royal Hope Academy was started two years ago by a college-age gal named Rebecca Sorensen. Much like Katie Davis, Rebecca spent three months teaching in Uganda and then made the decision the move there permanently to serve the children of Uganda.

Royal Hope Academy provides Christian education and discipleship to 240 orphaned and/or poor children in Uganda. Rebecca herself was a "partial orphan" who was abandoned by her father at a young age and struggled deeply with feelings of rejection growing up. Because of this understanding and background, she takes special care in helping the children at RHA find healing and wholeness through the love of their Heavenly Father. 

"Since February 2009 when we first started the school, at least 100 children have come out of polygamist Islam, witchcraft or Rhasta into the marvelous light and love of Jesus Christ, really knowing what it means to give Him their hearts and lives. They have learned that they are loved by their heavenly Father, the King of Kings, and that they have been adopted as princes and princesses into His Royal family. Many have been delivered of demonic oppression, healed from diseases and conditions, and certainly saved by the marvelous love of our Faithful Father. They have developed a compassion and a generosity for others as well through a weekly offering they give to help someone in the community who is in need." - Rebecca Sorensen

Rebecca with some of the students from RHA
That last sentence just makes you smile doesn't it? Here are these extremely poor children who have such a compassionate heart that they still find a way to help others in need. Wow. 

Our last day in Uganda will be spent with these kids and we'll reaffirm RHA's message of hope and spiritual adoption through our "In His Image" VBS lesson and activities. These kids sound pretty amazing and I am looking forward to meeting them. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Uganda Update: Serving the Least of the Least

In exactly one week from right now (9:50am MST), Devin and I will be flying to Uganda!! To celebrate, here's the story of another group we'll be serving while there:

Uganda Day 10
Ministry Spotlight: The Karamajong

Many would consider the people of Uganda to be "the least of these," yet even among this extremely poor nation, there exists a sub-population that is viewed at as the lowest of Ugandan society. This people group is treated as societal outcasts simply for who they are and where they were born. They are the tribe of the Karamajong and they represents the poorest of the poor in Uganda. On March 20th, we will have the privilege of serving them as Jesus would - with love and without social condemnation.

Because the Karamajong are not accustomed to being treated this way, our team leader has warned us that they will often bow down to the ground upon first introduction, simply out of respect for the visitor. It is the way they express how humbled and honored they feel that "the Americans" (or anyone of importance in their eyes) would desire to spend time with them. Especially in light of the fact that they are shunned by their own countrymen.

I am so looking forward to meeting this tribe, because it is they that have made the beautiful magazine beads that I use in my "We're All in This Together" crosses. Their works of art inspire me and to have the honor of meeting them will be so incredible.

From what I understand, we will be working primarily with the Karamajong children - busing them into the city in order to have a special VBS day just for them. It is very likely that these sweet kiddos have never ridden a bus before, so I'm sure the day will be an adventurous one for them to say the least. Just to give you an idea of the world these kids live in, here is a except from Katie Davis' blog: "These [children] are so devalued by society and even their own parents that they are not even given names." 

Amazima Ministries with some of the Karamajong children
It will be so amazing to tell these children (who have been told by society, and sometime even their own families, that they are worthless) that the God of the universe loves them and has made them in His image! Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they will be told that they are special and that God knows who they are. I get chills just thinking about it.

Read more about the Karamajong here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prayer Doula

This is Leoni. Leoni is nineteen and lives in Haiti. She is a soon-to-be teen mom and I'm her "Prayer Doula."

There is a ministry in Haiti called Heartline that myself and some of my online friends have fallen in love with over the past few months. Heartline is a kind of "crisis pregnancy center" in Port-au-Prince. However, it is very different than the American version of a CPC, because in Haiti nearly all pregnancies are considered high-risk and a crisis situation on some level or another. Options that an American woman visiting a CPC would be offered (such as adoption or government assistance) are simply not possibilities for the majority of the women whom Heartline serves. Even so, Heartline does an incredible job helping and caring for these women and their babies (read about their work here.)

A few weeks ago, my cousin Marla came up with the beautiful idea of gathering a bunch of her online friends together to pray for some of the Heartline ladies throughout their entire pregnancy. We each chose a specific woman and we use Marla's devotional book, Expecting: Praying for Your Child's Development - Body and Soul, to follow along with, and pray for, the development of that woman's baby each week. 

This week, Leoni is twenty-five-weeks pregnant and her baby's taste buds are developing. It is a beautiful thing to read about how her baby is changing and growing each week and how God's perfect design process is at work. But this week, I had a very hard time praying for Leoni. 

Marla's book is wonderful. It truly is - I would recommend it to any women thinking about starting a family, or in any stage of her pregnancy. However, as I read through this week's devotional, it hit me how many of our American views of pregnancy don't apply to a poverty-stricken nation like Haiti. And it's heartbreaking. Here's what made me pause with a heavy heart this week: 

"God, would you help me to expose my child to a wide variety of healthy foods? Would you bless him with taste buds that embrace foods of all kinds, from all cultures? I want him to be well rounded, to be willing to try anything once, and to be comfortable eating the food in any part of the world." - Expecting 

That is a lovely prayer, but living in Haiti, Leoni's baby will not have such opportunities. Leoni and her baby will be blessed just to have enough food to keep themselves alive and healthy, let along have any option of experiencing "culturally diverse" foods like we do here in America. I feel lucky and selfish and blessed and unfair and full of sorrow all at the same time. 

I really enjoy praying for Leoni and I think this project is amazing. This week it was just hard to find the words to pray for her in light of the reality of her circumstances. She needs prayer for so much more than we ( I ) generally consider praying for during a pregnancy. Things like having enough clean water to drink and getting enough protein (any protein, really) in her diet. Things I take for granted every day.