Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rwanda: A Piece from My Journal

I am currently in Amsterdam waiting to board for Ireland. All is well, although it has been by far the worst airport experience of my life, involving a ripped bag and making a check-in lady cry (well, not me, the system). So much for a smooth transition back to into the Western world!

As for my time in Rwanda:

Being in Rwanda over Easter affected me differently than I expected. I expected it to be powerful the initial stages of the genocide occurred over Easter. In reality, it was powerful because more than ever before I began to truly understand the power and hope of the resurrection. As Jesus was dying on the Cross, evil seemingly prevailed. Yet, even so, it doesn’t. Jesus’ words of forgiveness in the midst of death reveal his power over Satan. And still the disciples were left hopeless. They had witnessed extreme evil being done to their Master. All the evil in the world was laid upon Jesus’ shoulders. He died with that weight and sin in a posture of love. And then he didn’t stay there. In hope and power he came back to live on this earth. He conquered that evil once and for all in the resurrection. He took the sting out of death. Satan has no power because, in the greatest act of love, Jesus died and came back to live in the name of reconciliation.

It is in the shadow of the Cross and resurrection that Rwanda stands today. On Good Friday and Saturday, we visited memorials of the genocide. I was staring the worst evil I had ever seen in the face. Horror. Pain. Savagery. Just plain evil. In those days I felt anger. Anger at sin. Anger at evil. Ander at the selfishness of America and the Western world. Ander at the selfishness and capacity for evil and hatred that I saw within my own heart. I saw a brokenness I have never seen before. I was left with a feeling of hopeless despair.

Then came Easter. I had the privilege of worshipping with hundreds of Rwandans, no longer identified as Hutus or Tutsis. I drove through the countryside to see the development of a once bloodstained land. I heard of a President who put peace and reconciliation of a nation above selfishness, power, and corruption (which is virtually unheard of in Africa). And in the greatest sense of forgiveness and reconciliation I have ever witnessed, I sat across from a perpetrator and a survivor. I sat across from John who was brutally murdered Chantale’s father. I sat across from Frances who had mercilessly murdered his best friend, Bridgette’s father. I saw a forgiveness, confession, and reconciliation process like none before. Frances has now taken the father role in Bridgette’s life. Chantale, who claims she died after the genocide and felt God had died as well, found life only in forgiving John. I saw the power of reconciliation for both parties. In Rwanda, I saw the evil that caused Jesus to be crucified and I saw the power and hope of reconciliation through the resurrection, on both a personal level and a national level. As I stood there holding hands with both Frances and Bridgette crying out to God altogether, I was confronted by my own hatred and anger and unforgiveness. And as I was forced to face the evil and sin within my own life, and I had to deal with it accordingly, by confessing to God and others and asking for forgiveness. And I finally understood hope like I never have before. My Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday full of discussion of reconciliation fill me with feelings of forgiveness, hope and power. Easter, which is the core and foundation of my faith, made more sense than ever before. Welll, maybe it didn’t make sense because the supernatural rarely makes sense, but it became far more real, far more powerful, far more personal. In the cross and resurrection of Christ, there is power. Joy. Freedom. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Love. Vulnerability. HOPE.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Final Days at UCU

Sometimes the end of those seasons simply stink. It’s Saturday morning and I am sitting in Agatha’s room while she studies for an exam she has this afternoon (yes, they have exams on Saturdays). I don’t really want to leave her side, Yet in an hour and a half I will be leaving for a wedding my family invited me to, a Ugandan princess marrying a Norwegian man. It should be interesting.

On Wednesday I finished my last exam. History of East Africa. I can honestly say my hand has never been so sore than after 2.5 hours of writing everything I know about the history of a region. I had a presentation on Thursday about my practicum, and we spent the night there. We got to experience the first ever, Off-Tu’s Got Talent. It was such a joy to watch those kids do their thing and shake their booties. Yesterday, we had two elective classes on Simply Living and Calling. Now I am officially done with my junior year. I cannot believe I only have one more year left of college. Now that is sad. Even more than that, however, I cannot believe I will be leaving UCU in just 5 days. In these next five days, I will be spending one more night with my family, making chapatis and brownies, hiking in some forest nearby, packing up my stuff and hopefully bringing home less than I came with, and spending as much time as possible with Agatha and Innocent and the rest of my friends here in Uganda.

I cannot believe the time is coming to an end. I don’t know where the time has gone, but I can tell you I will be a different person coming home than I was when I left. But not totally. This has been an incredible experience. I have learned so much about people, myself, and my God. I have so many things going through me head, trying to make sense of it all, but these next five days, I am going to simply soak it in. I am going to simply live. I am excited for what God still has to teach me in these next five days. Sometimes I wonder if loving people fully is worth it, because there is always a goodbye in the future. But I’ve decided that even with the goodbye looming over our heads, I am going to love as best I can for the time I have left. Because it’s worth it. Jesus is worth it. I don’t want to waste another moment.

Here is my schedule for the next month and a half before I officially get home:

April 16-20: Uganda Christian University

April 21-29: Rwanda

April 30-May 3: Debrief in Entebbe

May 4-12: Rest in Ireland with Kyle and Kels (do a lot of thinking, debriefing, reflecting)

May 13-29: Traveling with my siblings (Kyle, Kelsey, Kory, Ali, Krissa) to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and back to Ireland

May 29: HOME! I arrive in Chicago at 6:35 pm to Midway.

This has been quite an experience. While I miss home so much, I can’t believe I have to say goodbye.

Pray that time would be sweet these next few days. I am also praying for you. That you would love well, embrace each day, and live faithfully to Jesus.

I love you and miss you!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Highlights of the Last Couple Weeks

I’m sitting here in the lounge of my hall. It’s cold and pouring outside and about 5 minutes ago it was so hot and sunny. I just got back from spending the morning and afternoon with Lynn, one of the basketball players I’ve connected with. I went over this morning and sat with her as she washed her laundry at her hostel. Then we walked to another place she stays and made me lunch. It was a great time of laughter, dancing (yes, this has become a daily part of my life), and great conversation. While we didn’t get a lot of time to spend together like today, I am very thankful for moments like this that the Lord gives us.

Here is an update of what I have been doing the last few weeks:

Gulu and Child Voice International.

Two weekends ago a group of us went to Gulu in Northern Uganda to visit some ministries there. Until 2006, Northern Uganda was a war torn area. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), a group of rebels, were savaging the North killing people, destroying villages, and ruining lives. The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who is from Gulu and the war is against the Ugandan government. The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children and forcing children to participate in hostilities. Thousands of children have been taken as child soldiers. Kony is a very spiritual man, and there is a lot of demonic power behind what he is doing. He is no longer in Northern Uganda, but has moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. I encourage you to read more about Joseph Kony and the injustice that is taking place at his hand.

Anyways, Child Voice International is the main ministry we went to and stayed at. Child Voice works with child mothers between the ages of 14-18, who were wives of LRA soldiers.. Many of them had been in the Bush since they were young, when they were kidnapped by the LRA. Now after many years, these girls come out of the Bush, either by escaping or being rescued, they have a child and no place to return to. They have no skills that are basic to life in Uganda, such as gardening, cooking, raising children, and keeping a home. On top of that, they have serious posttraumatic stress disorder, and because of the nature of the LRA, many of them are demon possessed.

Child Voice intervenes by taking a group of about 15 girls, along with their children, in at a time. It is a 20-month program This is the essence of what Child Voice does is to help girls redefine their identity as a daughter of the King. Through counseling, both Christian and psychological, these girls are able to redefine their identities. When they get out of the bush, they are defined by their experience as a wife of one of the LRA commanders. They are defiled. They are with child. Their memory defines them, so they need a way to remember themselves differently. Child Voice helps them find their transformed identity in Christ and engage with other believers in the body. They teach them basic life skills, as well as vocational training in cosmetology, tailoring, baking, and bead making. They teach the girls how to tend to a garden and care for their children. A lot of their therapy comes from time in the word, dancing (which is so much fun to experience), and learning how to live in community together. The transformation that takes place in these girls is amazing.

As we got there late Friday night, I felt incredible excitement as I watched these girls dance with an indescribable joy. I felt incredible excitement as I listened to Nicholas tell us about the ministry and counseling that they are doing for these child mothers. I felt an excitement that words cannot describe because restoration is taking place and these women are getting new identities. I was in my element. I don’t know what these means for my future, but I know that the model Child Voice uses is the kind of model I want to work with some day.

Safari: Murchison Falls National Park.

Last weekend 20 of us went on a Safari. It was such a relaxing weekend, with AWESOME conversation, and wonderful company. A lot of the IMME students went (the group who lives in homes the whole semester), which was so much fun because we don’t get to spend a ton of time with them.

My favorite part of the safari was sitting on top of the land cruisers, while driving through the savannah, with the wind in my face and having great conversations. Apart from that, we had an elephant charge our vehicle, we saw about 16 giraffes up close, and we saw a family of lions go for a hunt. Mufasa had only three legs, but Simba held his on to get food for his father. We spent about 9.5 hours out on our safari, got a lot of sun, and were amazed at the beauty of God’s creation. It was a great experience.

Farewell Party.

Last night we had our Honor’s College Farewell party. It was for the USP students and the Honor’s College students who are graduating. Parties in Uganda are a big deal. Lots of speeches. Lots of food. Lots of pictures. And the best part…lots of dancing. Ugandans can dance. Two of the guys told me I was actually a good dancer. I told them I had no one has ever complemented me on my dancing before, but I was pretty proud. J The Americans thought I was just spastic. Typical.

But more than the dancing, it was a reminder that our time here is running short. We only have a week and a half in Uganda before we leave for Rwanda. Then we only come back to a resort to debrief. I am finished with classes and only have one exam and one paper left. It’s crazy. It is a strange place to be. I love it here. I love the people I’ve met. I love the relationships that have been built. I love the God I serve, who I have learned so much about. Yet I miss home. But I am committed to living in the present and making the most of what I have before me. Right now, Uganda is before me and my God is faithful to continue to teach me as he has done for the last three months.

Don’t forget to live fully where you are at. Life is full of different seasons. If we don’t embrace the season we are in, it might be gone before we know it. And never forget. Our God is FAITHFUL.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Late Night Reflections

I am laying in bed right now. It is 12:45 am. This might be the latest I have stayed up since I've been here. The reason probably is the fact that I received a package from my parents and it contained dark chocolate and Starbucks Via packets. I haven't experienced this kind of caffeine since I've been here. I just got done Skyping with two of my good friends in a three-way Skype call. One is in Jerusalem and the other is in Upland. Technology is crazy. I should have been working on my history paper that I am continually putting off. Hopefully I will be able to pound it out before it is due on Wednesday.

I am approaching the three month mark here, which means I have one more month left in this place. It is crazy. I have so many conflicting emotions. I miss home a lot. But I am truly enjoying life here. I am sick of school. But I am loving my friendships. I am getting to the point, however, that I feel like I have learned so much that I am not sure I can learn much more. The pace of learning has been so quick that I feel like it is all being stored somewhere, waiting to be processed and sorted out. The problem is that I feel like that storage is getting full. I can't imagine what else God can teach me or that I can take much more.

As the storage continues to fill, I feel like it is getting more and more difficult to express what I am learning. Even talking to Laurie tonight (my friend in Jerusalem), we hardly talked about our experiences and what we are learning because there is just too much to even begin...for both of us. It is an interesting place to be. I put pressure on myself to be able to come back with all my lessons learned packed neatly in a little box ready to present to everyone.

But I am realizing that won't happen, and that's ok. Hopefully this time will be something that will continue to teach me in the years to come.

One degree change that over a long period of time leads to significant impact.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." -2 Cor. 3:18-

This is what life is all about. Whether it's in another country or whether it's at home. God is faithful to change us into his image.

One degree at a time. And we might not always see that one degree as it is happening. But it is.

"Transformation is not something you see in the moment. It is something you look back and see." -Kory Lantz-

What is that one degree change that is happening in your life? And if you can't see it right now, what is one way God was faithful to you today?

He is faithful. He is working. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes so we can see it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rural Homestay Lessons Learned: Dependence

Dependence. This is something I’m not sure I will ever attain to the depth that my family experiences it. hey live in utter dependence upon the Lord because they have to. They are dependent on the Lord because not all food and medicine is certain. A disease could wipe out the cattle. A drought could ruin the crops. Mosquitoes could bring malaria. They don’t have many of their options for food and income when that happens. They must rely fully on the Lord. While it’s a scary thing, it’s a beautiful thing. They are able to see the Lord’s faithfulness more clearly because they are looking for it. They are able to trust in him and display a great confidence because they have seen him come through again and again. They also are dependent upon one another. They have each other’s backs. They care for the need child and family, even in their own need. Coming from a culture where we are highly developed and where dependence is so valued, I’m beginning to see that we might have it wrong.

I believe dependence is necessary to fully live as a follower of Christ in this world. I think we are tempted to only rely on God in the “big” things, but I have begun to see this play out in my life more in the little things. As I learned from my family in Kyere, I began to pray for the little things. I prayed on the last night that I could see the whole sky of stars without clouds, but I also prayed for the rain that the ground so desperately needed. God answered both of my prayers that night. I prayed that my camera, which had run out of battery on Wednesday, would work for family pictures on Thursday and Friday. It worked until I got into the car to leave. The other day, a group of 3 of us mzungus (white people) were in Kampala waiting on a taxi. It was rush hour and it was nearly impossible to find a taxi going to Mukono. Then three more mzungus walked up. Then three more. So there are 9 mzungus waiting for a taxis in the middle of about 100 Ugandans. Of course, we were making a scene. So Caitlin and I prayed that God would bring taxis for us, and I jokingly added at the end, “An empty one for all of us.” And in God’s timing, an empty taxi pulled up just as 4 more mzungus from our group walked up. Therefore, we had a full taxi of mzungus going directly back to campus. Now, maybe that taxi would have come anyways, and the prayer was just me being goofy. Or maybe that was just God’s faithfulness in the little things. Maybe I wouldn’t have seen God in that way if I hadn’t prayed. The taxi would have come and I would have maybe patted myself on the back for being good at hailing a taxi.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but in a society where we can do most things “on our own,” I think we miss God’s sustaining work and his grace in the little things. Therefore, we are not dependent on God to show up. All I know is that I want to live a life marked by dependence. A life mark by desperation, where if God doesn’t show up, I fail.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rural Homestay Lessons Learned: Humility

Humility. This is something I so often long for, but pride seems to win out. A competitiveness and superiority rear their ugly head instead. This week I experienced humility like never before. I experienced it when people bowed down to meet me. I experienced it when my sisters knelt to wash my hands. I experienced it when my four-year-old niece taught me how to peel cassava with a knife. I felt so unworthy of their time and attention. Although so often I subconsciously act or think like I’m superior, I’m not. At all. I didn’t deserve the attention and respect they showed me. I experienced this the most when I went to see Joyce, who had invited me to her home to see her children. When I got there with my sister, Joyce wasn’t around. We sat there for an hour and a half with Joyce’s husband’s other wife and about 15 children. Then Joyce came, greeted us, and started cooking. Soon the children were chasing around a chicken, and I was being served soda and biscuits. It was so humbling that it actually made me sick to my stomach. It was difficult for me to take it because there were children all around who were hungry and whose clothes were threadbare. Why should I be eating my new friends biscuits and drinking her soda while the children just sat there and watched me? When was the last time they had soda and biscuits? After three and a half more hours, Joyce invited me into her little home and served us a feast. We had rice, fresh fish, and the chicken the kids had been chasing around. It brought tears to my eyes. These people valued me enough to give me their best, simply because I was their guest. I didn’t deserve it but in humility I took it. It made me wonder, “Am I willing to sacrifice my beset so others can know their value?” How dare I ever let “superiority” hold me back, when truly I am so far behind in understanding the value of people? It was a truly humbling experience to see people give of their best, knowing I far from deserve it.

This is Joyce. She came to see me just before I left!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rural Homestay Part Two: New Experiences

Soon after I arrived ‘home’ I sat down with my Papa and he told me all the experiences he wanted me to have and all the things we needed to get “snaps” of my doing. While I soon realized that my rural homestay was about far more than the experiences, I did experience a lot of things for the first time.

· Killing a Chicken

· Watching a Pig being Slaughtered (it’s not quick or quiet)

· Digging, Carrying, and Peeling Cassava

· Carrying a Jerry Can of Water on my Head

· Feeding a Calf with a Bottle

· Living in a Close Proximity to a lot of Chickens and Not being Fearful the Entire Time

· Sleeping in a Grass-roofed Hut with Rats and Lizards (Now the Background of my Blog)

· Experiencing Rural African Hospitality

· Having a Niece to Be My Companion 24 Hours a Day (hint, hint)

· Cooking in a Hut

· Pumping Water from a Borehole

· Giving a Mini-Sermon in a Ugandan Church Service

· Speaking Ateso (Just the Basic Greetings)

· Eating a Mango Straight from the Tree

· Never Knowing the Time

· Using a Latrine with a Rat in it for a Week

· Shelling Groundnuts for Hours

· Reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen (I highly recommend it)

· Laying on a Mat Under that Stars every Night while Papa led our Devotion and Prayers

These are just a few of many experiences. And while the experiences were great, the interaction with the people was the best part.

Rural Homestay Part One: Meet my Family

This is Papa. He was crazy. He spoke English pretty well and was all about me having the "Bush" experience. He also was constantly telling me to take "snaps" (pictures) of everything. I learned so much from him. He is the headmaster at the local primary school, but he loves agriculture. He had 8 different types of fruit trees (oranges, lemons, guavas, avocado, papaya, jackfruit, banana, and mango-my favorite). While the women in the family and all the village children bow down to Papa in greeting or in serving him, he loved well. He treated the children like they were the most important person on earth. It was cool to see how he valued people.

This is Toto (Mama in Ateso). Toto spoke some English, but not a lot. I still learned a lot from sitting and talking to her. She would tell me just how difficult life was. She was such a strong woman who demanded respect from men and women alike. Toto was so hospitable and anyone who came was taken care of.

This is my sister Dorfee. I followed Dorfee around all week. She is the eldest of the 9 children in my family. I would say she is in her late 20s. She spoke little English but had such a joyful spirit. We laughed a lot. Dorfee was always the first to jump in and start playing with the random children.

This is my 16-year-old sister Naume. She was in school a lot and pretty shy, but I enjoyed helping her cook and carry water.

This is my 14-year-old sister Loy. Loy doesn't know much English but she loved to dance while she was cooking and working. I helped her in the field a lot and enjoyed being with her.

And this is Tina. Tina is my little 4-year-old niece. She never left my side. She was one of those girls that just captured my heart. We would have full conversations, her speaking Ateso and me speaking English. She would repeat the ABCs after me. We had a handshake. She carried my Nalgene everywhere we went. Tina taught me a lot about humility as she taught me how to do so many things, like use a knife, peel cassava, do my laundry. Tina captured my heart.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rafting the River Nile

So much has gone on in the last few weeks, I thought I would start with one thing at a time. I had the incredible opportunity to do something I love…GO RAFTING! Yet this experience was different because I was able to float down the same river Moses floated down. Pretty cool, huh? The whole time we were reminding ourselves that we were in Africa and that we were on THE Nile River. The rapids were huge. They weren’t as technical as other rivers I’ve rafted but they were definitely bigger. Most of the USP students went. Then we camped at the rafting headquarters. It was absolutely beautiful. It made for a time of great fellowship and lots of wonderful conversations. Here are some of the pictures of our adventure.

Cody and I are excited

The Taylor Girls

My Boat

This Rapid was Called Big Brother. It was my favorite.
We only did this 3 times. I didn’t die, but I think I came close. :)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Home Away from Home

I just finished writing more papers than I can count. It's 11 pm and everyone around me is either freaking out about the 4 more papers they have left or crying because they don't want to go on our rural home stay. I, on the other hand, am really excited. I am excited about the challenge, whatever challenge comes with living in the bush for 10 days with no one I know and people who speak little English. I am exited to be away from technology and to be forced to be ok with being. I am excited to not have to worry about classes for the next 10 days. We will be in Soroti District in Eastern Uganda. It is seven hours from campus.

Speaking of campus. Since my mom has been asking me for pictures of campus, I thought I would leave you with pictures of my home away from home. The home I will be away from for the next 10 days.

This is my dorm. Winfred Brown Hall, although I spend most of my time in the dorm up the hill.

These are the basketball courts that I have been playing on a few nights a week. I love being able to shoot and relax.

This is where I eat rice and beans everyday!

This is the library where I try to spend more times outside of than inside of!

This is chapel!