I am pleased to report the team had a restful sleep on their second night. I heard reports that there was a hide and seek game at the hotel! I’m enjoying the way this team has blended together naturally. At eight in the morning the heavens opened and the rains came down in Africa. It’s a gift to have rain for the growing food, but a curse to walk through a muddy field to get to the church entrance. The bus nearly got stuck on the road up to the church so when it parked far away and said, “everyone out” our feet sunk into two inches of umber mud. Thankfully just before exiting our bus I gave a pep talk about enduring hardships without complaint, as there will be many, and the truth is we are not here to be most comfortable, we are here to serve, experience life as others live it, and stretch ourselves to be less self consumed, less selfish and more open minded. Let’s just say the kids are the best when it comes to this task. That includes me in the naughty group, I have to remember to overcome, endure, tame my tongue, and have a good laugh rather than blow steam. So we trudged through mud in the pouring rain to enter the new church where the floor is mud and the walls and ceiling are metal sheeting.
Church with Robert and Rose is always an excellent time of connecting with the body of Christ and feeling the strength of communal worship I consider Robert my Pastor in Uganda. He is not in anyway involved in the orphanage we come to serve, or Kira’s baby home. I think the separation is important. The way the singing and dancing is so intensely given to God cannot help but envelop me, wrap me up, and usher me straight to the feet of Jesus. During one moving and bouncy song most of the mzungus hopped up on stage and began dancing with the Ugandans. I wish you could have heard the whoops and hollers from the surprised Ugandans. It was a good way for us to show we are all one, and it is so important for us to make that move so they can let down their guard with us. All the worries slip away and sweet peace of God’s love sat beside me as the team experienced church in Uganda.
A group of Brits were visiting to do a conference for Pastors this week at Robert’s church, so their leader gave the message. All of our adults on the team said it was deeply moving. I missed most of it because I followed our youth out the door to the mud pit where they helped with children’s church.
There were about fifty children seated in plastic chairs and Esther, their children’ minister and a friend of Emily’s from our visits in December invited Emily to give the lessons and songs. Emily is a natural at stepping in and teaching without a moment’s notice. She is so unflustered, confident, and generous. I love to see her in action. She directed all of our students to act out the story she was telling about Joshua. Our kids improvised with exaggerated and hilarious body language the story and the watching children sat rapt with interest. And they got so dirty but it didn’t stop them one bit. They shared songs with the children, and the Ugandan children shared songs with ours. They took a break and passed around butter cookies and the crumbs mixed into the mud while children grinned happily to cut their hunger.
May I just say for a moment Kira has been so adaptable and well behaved in all the moving around and changing environments. It’s almost as if it brings out the best in her, as she loves to watch people, but she can’t stand it when everyone wants to pick her up. You must earn that right with her, as Uncle Don discovered she loves mango juice and spent twenty minutes with her in his arms serving her. In Uganda everyone takes care of all children. So, they see a baby and scoop her up without a moment’s hesitation. Kira throws a screaming reach for her mama and they are so offended. I’ve been accused of raising a child who only likes mzungus. I feel badly that feelings are hurt with her rejections but it is really a matter of her being 15 months old and unaccustomed to so many people handling her. And it is also a blessing that our bonding has been solidified. Let’s set the record though, anyone who looks like Emily is welcome to hold her as long as they want, especially if it is Emily. At first sight she went straight into her cousins arms and they exchanged hugs and kisses of reunion. She did not forget.
After the two and a half hour church service I arranged to have lunch served for Robert’s team and ours, and the visitors from England. I basically handed Rose a pile of Ugandan shillings, she called the caterers who showed up with excellent Ugandan food and we dined there in the church. Robert reported it was the first fellowship in their new church building. I was honored six months before when Rose brought me to their land to stand on it and pray for their ministry that they would be able to have worship in their new building before July. They were renting the previous space and it was wasting their resources, so to be on their own land is excellent progress for their ministry.
I wanted our team to have time to visit with Robert and Rose and get to know new friends. That was certainly accomplished as I toured group to group where they were mingling and making friends. I couldn’t help notice again that there were children hovering at the door waiting for the leftover food. This time I was in a position to make sure their bellies were full. Everywhere we look here there are children who are hungry. And children are often treated like second class citizens, and chased away like dogs. Oh it infuriates me. It is not like we found the one remaining group of orphans who were in desperate need of help. Every person who reads this blog could find their own orphanage to help and there would still be more. The needs are so great here it can become overwhelming. I have to remember God loves the fatherless and will provide and I can only take care of one child at a time, and God willing I’ll live a long life and serve it well to reach as many as my hands can touch. It is impossible to do all at once.
After the service I sought out the team members who had not been to Africa before and wanted to hear what they experienced in church for the first time. Unanimously they are being affected by the deep expressions of gratitude though they have so little. There’s an untethered freedom to worship and they give the gifts of the heart which include warm welcoming smiles, handshakes, and often hugs. Their faces shine with joy though their bodies may drip with rags. And frankly, us westerners have a shame that overcomes us for tending to all our wants and ignoring the fact that our needs are so well met. This is indeed my first feeling from my first experience in church in Uganda, and I was encouraged to hear similar feelings from the rookies.
I feel leading a team is both to benefit the children and people we come to serve, but just as important to have a life changing experience in our own hearts as the secrets of the dark continent grip us and grow roots there to alter us in permanent ways. So planning the fellowship after church was in service of my team to get to know Ugandans. Many children approached us and said, “I don’t go to school. I want.” I asked one if he had a father at home, he said yes he makes pots and there are two other siblings. I asked him what his mama does and he said she died in hospital. This is heart breaking, wrenching and torturous for me. I want to stand on a chair and say, all you children here who are not in school line up and then hand them a ticket to have an education for as long as they can learn. Instead, my brother-in-law and I laid our hands on the bony shoulders of these hurting children and prayed to God on their behalf. And I won’t forget to pray for them. In fact, I would ask anyone out there when you see a photo of a child from Uganda to pray for all the children here who are not able to get an education and that by the grace of God they will find a sponsor program to provide them a future outside of poverty.
I thoroughly enjoy conversations with Andres about his experiences. I watch his face often as he absorbs everything new around him. He is processing it, and it is opening his eyes and expanding his heart and mind. This is answer to my prayer, that a young man of 21 would experience the heart of Uganda. I reminded him that the car wash and the yard sale his family’s youth group organized to raise three thousand dollars went to help the needs of the hurting he sees all around. To see the realization come over him I just knew he would return and be a stronger leader in his youth group, a voice for the suffering children in this world, and he too will rally those in his reach to give a little and help a lot. For me, that’s an answer to my prayers for this mission trip. And God willing, for all the future teams I am honored to lead, I will pray they too will return as a voice for the suffering children.
When we left the church it was 3:30, there were clear skies, and after an hour long bus ride to the house we only had a half hour before reloading the bus to go to Ndere for the evening dinner and entertainment. During our break some of us went for a walk to the market. Seeing the inside of a grocery store is one of my points of interest when visiting a foreign country. We bought all the coffee they had in the large size, and we’ll be back for more. Everyone wants to take home Ugandan coffee, it is rich, smooth and without a trace of bitterness. It is the ONLY coffee I enjoy black and that says a lot.
George and Irene joined us for the evening at Ndere. Oh my goodness, what fun all of us had teasing them for you know what, and if dark skin can blush they would have been beet red. Instead they leaned on one another, and couldn’t keep their hands unclasped, or their arms from being draped around one another. Precious. At one point Irene picked up George’s prized camera and I saw his jaw drop as she experimented with the focal length of his lens, and I told him, “now you share everything”. He laughed and nodded knowingly. He will be a very good husband for this blessed young woman. It is an inspiring thing to see young love like this, and reassuring for me to know after nearly 22 years of marriage ours is stronger each time we turn another round. Happily ever after is possible when there are three in the marriage, as God tops off the triangle.
Ndere is a musical performance of dances from all the areas of Uganda. There is a main man announcing the show, telling stories and making jokes about Uganda, such as, when you invite a well developed Ugandan woman you give two arrival times at 6: the body enters, and at 6:30 the seating facilities enter, and that is their standard of perfect beauty. I can say, Kira will one day meet that standard, as Cindy said “oh look at her little morning diaper all full” and I said, “no I just changed her, that’s her butt”. Howling laughter.
The team took up the third row extending four tables and helped themselves to buffet dinner while enjoying the drumming and booty shaking dances. I will say these dancers back into the room with their seating facilities and shake it so fast it is mesmerizing. They have fur and feathers wrapped around their bottoms that make a colorful blur. Meanwhile their upper body is entirely still and poised. For the finale they pile clay pots on their heads and continue to not only shake it without a crash but also climb the stairs for their exit. Abigail, age 9, said to me, “Africans are so good at carrying things on their heads”. She is a wise one with three years of living in Nigeria under her belt. And we all sit amazed as she compares Uganda culture to Nigerian culture. What child do you know who can do that?
The highlight of the day, we all voted and it was unanimous, was when they invited the children to come to the stage for a follow the leader dance. Jack and Abigail rushed the stage, and Jack carried Kira who was quite eager to be in the spotlight. He carried her around for a while, then let her down and she did her own thing becoming the entertainment for all. Nearing the end of their play, she crossed in front, stopped and began shaking her booty like all the dancing she had sat at attention in our laps to watch for three hours. The crowd roared! She seemed to notice the approval and continued to practice her dancing. I wonder if they give Ugandan dancing lessons in San Antonio, she is ready.
We all flopped into bed at eleven with promises to be ready at 8:30 to make our way for the first time to the orphanage! Everyone is so eager to greet the children and get to work. (I promise to load up more photos tonight… but the internet is slow and I’m going to be late for a very important date.)