Sunday, May 26, 2013

Days #8 & 9: The Wonder of it All

I'm waking up to my last morning in Uganda. It's hard to believe that our trip is nearly complete! The last two days we spent traveling farther north, embarking on a Ugandan road trip adventure. The wireless connections were dicey and the place we stayed didn't have electricity, hence the reason I'm now just updating. 

Blogging doesn't happen quite so easily in the mountains of Uganda!

Mid morning on Friday we packed up and headed to visit Sipi Falls. The Newberrys had heard that the falls were amazing and so we decided to make a road trip. 

The difference between a road trip in the US and Uganda is great. Here is just a short list of my observations...

#1.) Holes the size of small ditches are perfectly permissible on a Ugandan road. 

#2.) Most restroom stops  in Uganda require you to bring your own toilet paper and to surrender privacy. 

#3.) Roads may or may not be marked, so it's highly probable that Google maps won't be the best resource. 

Our trip to Sipi was certainly an adventure. The men would never claim to have gotten us lost...but the route that we took most definitely tested the Newberrys' vehicle's 4 wheel drive capability and provided us with some very rural mountain scenery. It was fun, but we were more than ready to arrive at our destination. 

The place where we stayed was incredible.  The guest rooms were grass covered bungalows that were literally on the edge of a cliff. Across the valley you could see one of the waterfalls.  As we slept at night the sound of running water created the most relaxing white noise. 

It'a been a long time since I've stayed anywhere so rustic. We didn't have any electricity and the "toilet" in our room was really a compost bucket. I'm  not typically a roughing it kind of gal, but the majesty of the views and the beauty of the place were surreal...you would have to be crazy to not be awestruck by the wonder of it all. 

Saturday morning we hired a local tour guide (Fred) to take us on the trails to visit the different waterfalls. Armed with our bamboo walking sticks, iphone cameras, and granola bars, we set off to explore the falls. 

Whenever I spend much time in nature, God's creativity and power overwhelms me. So often times I question His ability to do the miraculous in my personal life...I am constantly doubting  if He will carry through on the promises He's given me. 

And then I see His work. The beautiful splendor that He could create by merely speaking. The intrinsic design of ecosystems that can only be marveled over. The inconceivable majesty of it all. When I pause to look around at what God is doing around me, it gives me the faith to say I know what He plans to do will be amazing. 

Over the last 9 days we have created many memories...so many experiences to be treasured and shared. We are so thankful that God brought us here to remember what He has spoken to us. We look forward to hearing Him speak to us as we continue to press in and figure out what our next steps are. 

Much thanks to all who have followed our journey.  I am so appreciative to those who have shown an interest in our trip, to those who have volunteered to sponsor a child, to those who have asked how they can get more deeply involved. 

We are much blessed by you!! 

More updates to follow, but until then I must get one more batch of roasted bananas before we leave :)

Much love,
Steph 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day #7: Awakening

It's bright and early Friday morning. I'm the only one up so far, so I've been drinking a cup of coffee and gathering my thoughts this am.  Our time here has been quickly moving. We leave late Sunday evening, so I feel like we really are on the last little bit of our trip. I am so ready to get home to kiss Ellie beanie's cheeks and hug her tight!  But then there is the opposite part of me that is dreading having to say goodbye to the Newberrys. And while I sift through all these emotions, I keep wondering if we fulfilled God's purpose in His reasons to bringing us to Uganda. It's a lot to think about. 

Hence the reason I'm up early. And the coffee. 

Yesterday we visited a village primary school in the district of Mayuge. It took nearly an hour to get to Mayuge from Jinja. Many of the roads to the village were pot holed, so we were all grateful that everyone managed to keep their breakfast to themselves on our bumpy commute. 

The primary school is a project that has been ongoing for the last few years. Different churches and teams
have helped the school in the past, but currently Help One Now is the one overseeing it. 

Many of the children that attend this school are sponsored. In addition to receiving an education, they are receiving two meals a day, which is more than what most children might get in the village. 

According to US standards, the school is rudimentary. They sit on long wooden benches facing a chalkboard. They don't use electricity or running water. The water that they use comes from a well that they had to dig by hand 60 feet down.  But in comparison to many other village schools, they are doing fantastic.  The teachers are very competent. The school is growing a garden with fruits and vegetables to help feed the children.  In addition, they are currently working on building some permanent housing for teachers. Several of the teachers that live far away from the village would then be able to stay at the school once the project is complete. 

As Genessa told me more about their involvement in the school and how it has evolved over the years, it encouraged my heart to know that what we do at home really makes a difference. We can really change lives from the US. 

As sponsors  have consistently given support, the children are continually getting an improved school to help better their future. This  school is their chance to better their lives with education, to receive two meals a day, and to hear about the love of Christ. This school is genuinely saving lives and souls through child sponsorship. 

And just think, we can play a huge part in it!

Last night as James and I laid in bed and talked about what God was speaking to us while we were here, I finally felt a peace. I had been feeling kind of antsy and discouraged...wondering if we were supposed to be doing something bigger and different than what we were currently doing at home. 

It finally struck me that God knows my heart better than I do. He values my giftings and passions better than I do because HE DESIGNED them in me.   He created our hearts to break for vulnerable children...for the orphans, the impoverished, for those requiring justice. 

I think He just had to bring me back to Africa to remind me. 

It's easy to have an out of sight, out of mind mentality. When you're not immersed in poverty, you don't tend to dwell on it. If you aren't in communication with vulnerable children, you don't think about them.  A typical day in my life at home revolves around naps, making baby food, client work out schedules, church life groups, figuring out what I'm going to make for dinner, etc...But Africa is giving me a heart awakening. I'm getting a refresher on what I'm really passionate about. And I'm going to go home and see where that takes me. 

As we wrap up our trip, the next few days are going to be more vacation days. Last night I got a massage for $8. It was unlike any other massage I had ever gotten. It was probably the most thorough (ahem!) I've ever been massaged, and the background noise included boda bodas, a crying baby, and Justin Bieber remixes. All of which I had to smile and think, "This is Africa."

And I'm so glad I'm here. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day #6: Paradise on the Nile

I've been unfortunately awake scratching mosquito bites for the last hour. Oh mercy, did they chomp me up good today. It's times like this that make me realize it was probably a good use of my time and money to see the doctor for an international consult for meds before we left. Because who wants to get malaria while visiting Africa?!

Not me, no thank you. 

Yesterday was what we called our "vacation day." Tim and Genessa had found a resort that was located on this little island in the middle of the Nile River. It truly is this hidden gem tucked away. The only way to get on the island is by a canoe. For $15/day you can use the resort's amenities and hangout for the day. Otherwise it costs $500/night!  So we opted to go with with the value package and just hang out during day time hours. 

We spent the day eating good food, relaxing, swimming, and just enjoying the company of good friends. It was truly paradise on the Nile. 

It has been refreshing and comforting to be able to spend the week with good friends that are like minded. As we have spent time watching their new lives evolve in Uganda, I am so proud to call them our friends. They have truly learned a new culture and are doing their best to fully immerse their family in it. It can be exhausting and isolating to have to make so many cultural changes with out having a team of people alongside them...but they have made transition after transition so gracefully.  It reinvigorates me to see how God will give such grace and favor when we walk according to His will. Their actions of obedience are certain to bear much fruit as they continue to serve in Uganda. 

To follow Tim and Genessa and to learn more about Help One Now's child sponsorship program, visit Help One Now on Facebook or visit their website at http://www.helponenow.org/

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 5: As a Mother...

We are a little over the half way point of our trip. It has been going so quickly, yet at the same time it seems like we have been gone for forever. I'm sure a large part of that is due to the fact I'm missing Ellie beanie something fierce!

Yesterday was a fairly relaxed day. Genessa and I were making guacamole for lunch and realized we needed a chile pepper. We decided to walk to the market stand to buy one. They were out, so we walked to another market. Nobody in this market had one either.  So we caught a boda boda (motor bike) and rode to a third market where we eventually found a pepper. Our 15 minute task took quite a bit longer, but that guacamole was worth every bit of our troubles. 

Besides, this is Africa. 

In the afternoon we went to visit Amani, which is a baby's home for orphans. The children aged from 2 weeks old to 6 years old. It was the first time I've been into an orphanage as a mother. I've gone to visit many orphanages over the years, but this was the first time I went in with the eyes, ears, and heart of a mama. 

And let me tell you, it's a whole lot different when you're a mom. 

I was immediately drawn to the babies that were about Ellie's age. They were all sitting so quietly in the front yard for their "play time." They had two blankets filled with baby girls while the baby boys were hanging out in the grass and dirt...just getting to be boys, I spose. 

One little guy toddled over to me and wanted me to pick him up. For the next 30 minutes he wanted me to just hold him. We sat down on the grass, he plopped in my lap, and he didn't hardly stir for the next half hour. I couldn't help but think of Ellie. She's at the age where everything is a new opportunity to climb on, crawl over, explore. She wants to jump and babble and NOT SIT STILL. She is going a million miles an hour. 

But this little guy just wanted to be touched. He craved personal attention. He was loving the fact that someone was just holding and loving on him, and him alone. 

Ellie gets all the love and personal attention that a baby could have. She is secure in that, and in that security she plays and moves and is developing like she should.

My mother's heart was grieved to think of all the children who are in need of someone to give love and stability to them. I was reminded of the miracle that Ellie is.  I am so thankful for the fact that she is so healthy and stable. And in those realizations, my heart was once again stirred in knowing my role in orphan care isn't yet complete. We have children waiting for us.  I don't know where or when or how we will connect with them, but that part of my heart is expanding again. As it enlarges, I feel God reminding me, "Stephanie, you are going to do something about this."

So for those of you praying, thank you. Continue praying that we may seek God and hear Him as He begins to work in our hearts about our future and where He wants to take us. I am reminded of His faithfulness and love for me, and in that, I want to be obedient in knowing I'm following the directions and callings He's planned ahead of me. 

Mucho love,
Steph

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 4: A full heart

The days here have been flying by. I can't believe it's Tuesday already. Yesterday was a busy day. My heart is full. Full in all kinds of ways. I'll do my best to explain. 

Monday morning we went to the main market. The market is the place to go if you need fruits and veggies, cow intestines, a hoe, frying pans, underwear, or perhaps some new tableware. You can find it all there. Genessa had told me that it was a good idea to bring a scarf and spray it with perfume to combat stinky smells for times like at the market. I was quite thankful for this advice when shopping!

For lunch we met up with a missionary family that was passing through Jinja. Kenneth and Christie Wilson and their seven children live in a desert village in Karamoja, which is approximately ten hours north of Jinja. We wanted to hear about their experiences and what the Lord was doing in their lives. Listening to their testimonies of faith and their acts of obedience made me so encouraged to know God equips us all so uniquely and perfectly.  His arm is never too short to save, He will always provide, His power is alive and all consuming today. 

Monday evening we had the fun adventure of finding and buying a goat for Frank's family. One of Tim and Genessa's Ugandan friends, Monde, knew of someone we could buy a goat from. So we drove out to the village and then walked around for about an hour trying to find the man we were going to buy a goat from. It was quite the experience. As we were walking along the back roads of the village, the children would come and run to the road yelling "mzungu, mzungu!" Mzungu is their word for white person. I'm sure that we made for quite the interesting procession to watch and some happily followed us for awhile. 

We found out that the goat we were buying was pregnant and so we were excited about that. We felt like we were getting a good deal on that one! For about $60 we purchased the goat and loaded her up in the backseat of the car. As we were loading the goat, I looked at Genessa and said, "When we first met, did you ever think we would one day be buying a pregnant goat and loading her in the backseat of your car in AFRICA?"

I never saw that one coming. But dang, it was fun!

I am so blessed by being able to sponsor Frank. I didn't realize until going to his home and meeting his family of what impact a child sponsorship could do. Frank's mom is raising 4 children on her own. The 5 of them live in one bedroom that is made from dirt. They have no electricity or running water. His mother doesn't have a job, they barely have food. But through the sponsorship program, Frank is able to go to one of the best secondary schools in Jinja. He's getting an amazing education, the ability to learn about God, and the tools to go to a university so that he can do something different with his life. 

When we handed him the leash to his goat, his face just beamed. He is so shy, but his countenance spoke volumes. As a thank you to us, their family brought out a jackfruit, a huge bunch of plantains, and two large papayas. As they sliced open the jackfruit for us, I was once also humbled by their love for us. They have hardly anything, and yet in their love for us, they gave us what little food they had. 

That jackfruit was one of the most touching presents I've ever been given. 

My heart is full. 

Day 3: Rest

I'm waking up to another beautiful morning today. I'm listening to the roosters cockadoodle-dooing and all kinds of birds chirping away happily. I think it's going to be a good day today. 

Yesterday was a genuinely restful Sunday for me. It seems like it has been a long time since I've experienced real rest on a Sunday. I'm sure part of the reason it seemed restful is I don't have any responsibilities here, where as at home I'm taking care of Ellie...but it just seemed like a different kind of rest. 

Before breakfast, Genessa and I walked to a little market stand to purchase eggs, bread, milk, and donuts. It all came to the equivalent of about $6. Kind of crazy!

We all made breakfast together and then headed to church where their friend Pastor Edward pastors in a nearby village. As we pulled into the village church there was a sign that read Sunday service to be held from 9-12. Genessa told us, "Don't be fooled. The sign might say it ends at 12, it really means 1."

As we got out of the car, people were standing outside our doors to welcome us. Each person would come up to us, clasp our hands warmly and tell  us "thank you so much for visiting."  Their hearts were so genuinely thankful for us to come visit them. 

The church was not air conditioned, but that sure didn't stop them from dancing. The choir had number after number that they performed with gusto. The service was definitely heart felt and filled with joy. Their thankfulness for our visit was so amazing. Pastor Edward had the church pray over James and I. With outstretched hands, the entire congregation prayed for blessings and safety over us. 

It was so humbling to see these beautiful people praying for us. Their lives aren't easy. The average income for a person living in the village is $1.35 per day. I know that the struggles they're combating on a daily basis involve malaria, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, poverty, the inability to get an education...the list could go on and on.

So it was something else to look out on this congregation, praying with fervent joy for our well being, when I know full well my life doesn't have any of the equivalent struggles that they're dealing with. It was humbling. Completely and totally humbling. 

After service we were able to meet Frank, our sponsored child. Frank is 15 and seems like a genuinely sweet young man. He's very shy, but his spirit is so kind. He's in secondary school and we were told he is very, very smart. He told us he wants to eventually become an electrical engineer. It made me feel so glad to know that what we are doing in sponsoring children is actually making substantial differences in their world. As a sponsored child he is given the opportunity to get an education, better his odds at getting a good job, and thus beating some of the struggles that so many people in the village suffer with. 

We spent the rest of the day hanging out. We ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Kind of funny to travel to Africa to then get Chinese food, but it was really good! For dinner that night we got food from the street. As I'm typing this out, I'm realizing that sounds kind of dicey...but the fresh fries and chapati were too much to pass up. Hopefully we don't regret the street food today :)

Genessa and I stayed up until almost midnight just talking...being...resting...It sure did my heart good!  I am missing my baby girl, but God has been so good in letting me know she's being well taken care of by my parents. He's genuinely given me such peace in experiencing our time here so far. 

I'm so thankful for this time.  To be able to experience Africa with James and some of our dearest friends has been a true blessing. Thank you to all who are continuing to pray for us as we listen to God speak and work in our hearts. He's providing us with rest that we know is truly from Him. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day #2: happily exhausted!

 It's about 7 in the morning here in Uganda...which means I actually slept through the night last night and wasn't able to write a blog post! It's amazing what an 8 hour chunk of sleep feels like after you have been chugging around on a handful of hours for the past few days. 

So I'll give y'all a recap on our yesterday!

We met Tim and Genessa at our guest house yesterday morning for breakfast. It was so, SO great to see them in the flesh. Skype is great and all, but it just doesn't hold a candle to a real hug :) We all caught up a bit and ate a homemade breakfast together. The fresh squeezed passion fruit juice was quite delish! 

From the guest house we traveled to Kampala, we needed to pick up some items from the week before we headed to their home in Jinja. 

Kampala driving is crazy. I have to give props to Tim for driving in the madness. I think I would have to hire him as my chauffeur if I were to live here. People are always running in and out of the road and boda  bodas (motor bikes) are constantly weaving in and out of traffic. Traffic lights are there, but no one seems to use them. You just kind of drive. And whenever you aren't driving, people are coming up to your windows to try to sell you toilet paper or chicken on a stick or whatever else they might have on hand. We bought a bunch of roasted bananas off the side of the road. And those bananas were delicious. Makes me want to try and roast some when we get home!

We stopped by a store and got a backpack and some school supplies for Frank. Frank is a child that we 
sponsor through Help One Now, the organization that the Newberrys work with. We are so excited because we are going to be able to meet Frank and his family this week! He starts school soon, so hopefully the supplies will be beneficial to him. 

The travel from Kampala to Jinja took longer than expected, and Tim and Genessa told us some advice that they received when they moved here. 

"If you think it will take an hour, it will take a day. If you think it will take a day, it will take a week. This is Africa."

True statement. 

We got to their house about 3 hours later than anticipated, but hey, this is Africa!

It was incredible to see how much bigger their kids are! Benja and Izzy are amazing. It was so much fun to see them and squeeze them again. 

That afternoon we unloaded all of the loot we had brought for them. Pots and pans, electronics, clothes, food, art supplies...it felt like watching them open gifts on Christmas morning! We take for granted the ability to go out and buy a box of cereal or a bag of chocolate chips for less than $10. I'm excited that they get some of their home comforts back. Because after spending just 10 minutes helping Genessa wash and wring out laundry by hand...mercy knows some home comforts are much needed!

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing together. We went to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Nile River. We got there at sunset and the view was amazing. Incredible to think that on Thursday  I was eating Qdoba in northwest Arkansas and fast forward a few days and now I'm drinking a Coke overviewing the Nile River. It makes me realize that the world is so big and small at the same time. 

After dinner, we went back home. We brought some glow sticks for the kids, so we cracked them open, had a dance party in the dark, and then happily exhausted,  headed to bed. 

I would say day #2 was a success :)