Uganda: Part 4; III’s Perspective

I can’t believe he’s finally here!! Our trip to Uganda was life changing and I can’t imagine spending sharing it with anyone else. Let introduce my amazing husband, III!
**Words written by III, pictures inserted by me :o)
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It is so easy for me to do something that might result in physical pain, but there is something inside of me that wants to keep my heart safe: safe from the pain of others, safe from the knowledge of poverty, safe from the pain of meaningful relationships, safe from orphan children, and most importantly safe from the danger of experiencing God. That is a very effective tactic for a comfortable life, and I’ve numbed myself for a while now. My medicine of choice oscillates between work, friendships, sports, etc, but it’s always something. I have wondered what it would take to pierce my heart and get past the numbness of complacency.


There is a school outside of Kampala, Uganda where Jesus is taught, kids are developed, hearts are changed, and hands are bloodied. The Jesus teaching, kid developing, and heart healing are the goals of the ministry, and they excel at it. Hand bloodying is not their goal, it is just a certain occurrence when Mzungu (affectionate term for white people) accountants and businessmen bust up concrete with rudimentary pick axes and shovels. My hands and my heart experienced both firsthand.
When I was told that I would be busting up concrete at a school that Sozo partners with, my first reaction was ‘sweet, this is something I can actually do.’ No emotions, or interaction required, just a task that needs to be accomplished. My position quickly changed when I actually saw the floor we were busting up and the tools we would be using. I wasn’t expecting a jackhammer, but I thought we would at least have sledgehammers. Instead we had just a few pick axes and some shovels. Jeff, Luke, and I aren’t the kind of guys to back down from a challenge, so we rolled up our sleeves and started swinging away! We worked hard, really hard, and by lunch our hands (especially mine) were ripped to shreds.  I had at least 10 deep blisters on my hands! 

We bandaged our hands the best we could right before lunch, and were ready to get back to it after we ate at a local pizza restaurant (I even eat Pizza in Uganda!). When we returned the Ugandan man that was supervising us looked at our hands in disbelief.

“What is wrong with your hands?”

“Blisters, from the pick axe.”

(1 minute of hysterical laughter)”Mzungus aren’t made for hard work (said in between the laughter); they are made to preach the gospel!”


It was the quote of the trip! And as funny as it was, there was an element of truth to his mockery. My soft hands were ripped up, but I was determined. My body might not have been prepared, but my mind definitely was. So, we keep breaking the floor up. Once we were finished, we started mixing concrete for the new floor. My hands kept getting worse, and at the urging of seemingly every person I saw, I quit with an hour or so left. By this time, every guy was helping, the rain was pouring, and we were getting another much needed shipment of sand. It hurt my pride to have to sit out the last hour or two, and watch others working. I am the typical prideful man, who doesn’t like to give up, or get pity. I’ve become a doer as I’ve gotten older. I used to be more laid back, some would even say inclined to laziness, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve changed. I become almost obsessive about completing a task, whether it’s running a marathon, completing work at my job, or anything in between. So, it is really a struggle for me to give up on anything. But God taught me a lot by ripping my body up. It’s not always about doing, it’s about being there. God didn’t call me to Uganda to accomplish tasks (as Allen said, the Ugandan people can lay floors better than we can!), he called me to love and to partner with Him in what he is doing; to teach, to be taught, to love, to be loved, and to grow.  Having to stop was a blessing in disguise, because I got to meet Tracy, a beautiful little girl that LB and I will be writing on a consistent basis going forward. 


 If I wouldn’t have had to stop I wouldn’t have gotten to meet Tracy, which I would have definitely regretted.  I wouldn’t have been able to remember that smile and the way she said ‘Uncle Trey’. I can visualize her which is worth the whole trip’s cost in time and money! I wouldn’t have gotten to high five and hug the kids as they were leaving for school. My hands would have been hurt, but that piece of my heart would have stayed in tact.


                My hands are almost completely healed and calloused, but my heart is still wounded. I’m hurt and ashamed at my selfishness and lack of empathy; the way I have lived my life when I have such an opportunity to help others (from Atlanta to Uganda). I hurt for all those in poverty that no one is helping. I hurt for George, who is deaf and can’t communicate because the resources to teach him aren’t available. I hurt for those of us in America who have never known joy like the joy that I saw on some of those faces. But my heart was pierced the most by the love that was shown to me and the love that I felt for my new friends. 

In Andrew who had a smile that shined. 
For Julius, the future martial artist, who would strike a serious karate pose, and chop me 3 times before I could react. 

In Ronald who stayed home from the weekly soccer game so that he could be there when I returned. 


For Mato (the house dad) who told me it was a sad day because we were leaving! 

In Sarah’s friend in the slums of Kabagala (I don’t even know her name) who felt the urge to pray over LB and I in a shack in the slums, even as her family was getting threatened by witch doctors! 
For Esau who showed me how a 13 year old can be a better leader than a grown man! 

In Enoch who cleaned up behind his brothers muddy footprints without being told and with no expectation of praise. 


For Mary who hugged with reckless abandon. 


In Daudi (16 year old version) who was the life of the party. 


For Victor who danced for God! 


In Ibram who dedicated himself to bracelet making so that LB’s wrist would be covered. 


Embodied in Alex, the Sozo driver, who came to know Christ and was baptized in the Nile River. 


I may never see my friends again this side of heaven, and even though I’ve only known them a short time, I miss them. My preacher said this morning that ‘once you’ve really encountered God you walk with a limp!’ I haven’t experienced anything traumatic but my wounded heart is a result of an experience with God through these people. My limping heart will eventually heal stronger than ever, better equipped to love, and to be loved. And my friends and Uganda will be a part of me; scars to help remind me of how God loves me and how he loves everyone from Atlanta to Uganda to the Philippines.  

-III

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Uganda | Part Three: Rays of Hope

I met my 24 new students today! We begin another year in 3rd grade on Monday and it’s been good being back at school. I’ve caught up with friends, written names on desks, rearranged my room 20 times, and stood in awe of ALL we have at the school I teach. It is more than one could ever hope for, & I am so grateful.

However, while my mind has been going through all of the tasks & to do’s, a part of my heart has been in Kabalagala, Uganda and kids of Rays of Hope.

You see, this is their school.

{Rays of Hope}

It’s a far cry from where I spend my days in the middle of upper class suburbia.
And while at first glance it seems very different, with closer inspection you can find some startling similarities.

When we arrived at Rays of Hope on a Tuesday morning the kids were already there settled on their wooden benches listening to their teachers. I, however, was still digesting all I had just seen during my walk to their front gate. Digesting because Rays of Hope is in the middle of the slums of Kabalagala.

We had just passed homes consisting of only 4 concrete walls and a makeshift roof, it’s residents washing their clothes in what appeared to be dirty water, children running around without shoes and yelling “Mzungu” (white person) as we passed, and vendors selling a variety of foods and products.

I was overwhelmed to say the least, but knew God had me here in this moment for a purpose.

{Signing “Yes” to George}

So while the scenery was very different one thing that quickly came into focus was how similar the students are to the ones I teach everyday. Many had an excitement for learning that was unmatched. And then of course, some were interested in MUCH more than what the teacher was writing on the blackboard.

Mary Jane and I had the opportunity to serve them their morning meal. Over 300 children lined up with their cup in hand for porridge and a roll. The smallest children came first, and each child showed their appreciation as we poured the white liquid substance into their cup and handed them a small roll. While I was filled with joy at the opportunity to feed them a simple meal my heart was breaking for their reality. The reality that for most of these children, the only meals they eat come from inside these gates. That while I have the luxury of not ever knowing what it truly means to be starving, they take in each bite knowing that this sustenance brings life.

When the children were in class the guys broke up the floor in an empty classroom. It was HARD WORK. They were TRULY the hands of God that day. III will tell you more in his blogpost next week.

We (the girls) were crammed into a tiny room updating registration cards for the students. And while at first this seemed like a mindless, mundane task, I quickly found out it was anything but. I repeatedly checked the same box on each child’s form, time after time, struck by the truth of what it means to be an orphan. I’m not sure why it hadn’t hit me until this moment, but as I checked another box YES to the question “Are both parents dead?” my heart broke for those outside the window, outside the gate, and all over the world.

How could it be that these same children who just greeted me with BIG white smiles and played with what seemed to not be a care in the world went home to someone who was not their parents? In most cases I pray someone else that loves them but still, not the ones who gave them life. I struggled with this truth until all of a sudden I realized where the smiles came from. These children are filled with the love of a father, their heavenly Father. They live putting their trust in him for their protection and to sustain them, and He has provided.

{Carol jumping…and jumping…and jumping}

Rays of Hope is run by an amazing man of faith, Joel Saka. His mother started the school over 20 years ago but Joel has since taken the reigns. Joel & his mother are giving these children such an amazing gift. They are giving them a chance to make a difference. To stop the cycle of poverty, to gain an education and a chance at a better life. And the Lord is moving in this place. It was an honor to be a part of it, and will forever change my perspective as a teacher and the way I love my students.

While at Rays of Hope III and I met two children we hope to sponsor. This is George.

George can’t hear or speak, but he comes to Rays of Hope everyday to sit in the classroom, receive a good meal, and share that beautiful smile. I was drawn to him the moment I met him. Seriously, how could you not be :o) While I time together was only a few moments he will forever be in my heart. We are praying right now for opportunities for George to learn to communicate, probably through sign language. However, the resources & know how is hard to find in Uganda. I would love for you to join us.

This is Tracy (& III). We pulled her out of class to say hello. She was a little shy at first, but soon began telling us her favorite subject and what she was learning. Her chin is covered with burns, and no one knows how they go there. I pray it is no longer painful. Don’t you see the joy in those beautiful eyes. That can only be put there by the Father. We gave Tracy lots of hugs & told her we can’t wait to learn more about her. When the kids left school later that afternoon she came back up to me & in the midst of a big hug asked if I would see her tomorrow. My heart broke because I knew my answer would be no, but rejoiced in the promise of a reunion on the streets of gold if not again in this life.

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Uganda | Part 2: Arrival & the Day.to.Day

I know their names, I’ve kissed their cheeks, and I’ve hugged their necks.
My life will for ever be changed because of my front row seat to God’s work in Uganda.

We did a lot of praying before signing up to go on this mission trip. Would it be better to just send the money? Will we be able to do enough to help these children? Is it okay that part of our reason for going is for a new perspective? Is there where God is calling us? In the end we felt that Uganda is where God wanted us to go.

On the plane to Uganda, I wrote I’m a little nervous, a bit anxious, and a lot excited all at the same time. I know “me” alone won’t be enough for the people of Uganda and the children of Sozo. What I must remember to calm my anxious heart is that this experience is not about me but it’s about God working through me to love His people.


“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” ~Phillipians 1:20



The second we stepped out of the van at House 1 one of the boys at the orphanage came up and took my suitcase. I had come to serve these kids, and they were already serving me.

We immediately changed to head off to church. When we pulled into the “parking lot” they checked our car for a bomb. Hmmmm….besides that first part it was comforting to see that the way those worship on the other side of the world is much like my own church down the road. We sang, we prayed, we listened, and we worshiped the same gracious God!

These kids love fiercely. I don’t know their pasts, and I wasn’t sure what emotional scars would be present as a result of it. But their bright white smiles & the joy in their eyes reminded me of the renewal that comes with life in Christ.

Their sadness & brokenness is gone only to be replaced by smiles & completeness.


“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!”
~2 Corinthians 5:17


That is what God’s love working through those of Sozo can do…is doing.

Several mornings it was the team’s job to wake the kids for school. Any guesses on what time they awake?? Well, let’s just say I set my alarm for 3:55 a.m. Although it takes a little prodding for them to arise once they are up they make the most of their mornings. Not only do they shower, comb their hair, get dressed & eat breakfast…they also complete chores which included meticulously making their beds (5 and 6 year olds included), sweeping, mopping the Uganda way (with a bucket & washcloth), and doing the dishes. There is also time for prayer before they catch the school bus at 5:40 a.m.

Each night we were able to join in the kid’s devotion. They gather together to worship their savior EVERY night. We began making a joyful noise to the Lord. Some songs in Lugandan, others in English. My favorite is called That’s Why We Praise Him. 

It’s a little staticy, but beautiful still. Then we would spend time in prayer. If I were honest our heads were down so long I started to run out of things to talk to God about, even though the six year old beside me continued fervently. Be still my heat…

Devotion would end with a reading from a child’s devotion book before the kids would share what they had learned that day. They would share everything from memorized bible verses to seeing today that God is the light in the darkness. WOW!

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
~Matthew 5:14-16

Here I was thinking I was coming to serve & teach them…and in so many moments they were teaching me and God was revealing himself to me through these children in Uganda.

We were often lucky enough to help serve dinner which usually consisted of starch, carbs, meat, and some more starch. To my surprise I usually liked what I put on my plate. The kids ate the biggest helpings I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine the joy the Sozo staff felt as they watched each child go from hungry to full.

The aunties & uncles that take care of these children are AMAZING. With a servants heart they spend their days cooking, cleaning, and preparing for the kids to come home from school.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

~1 Peter 4:10-11

Their home recently received a washing machine, but they still dry using a clothesline.

And although they have an oven they prefer cooking over these coal burning stoves.

Each night my head hit the pillow in awe of what God is doing in Uganda and continuing to do in me. How His love is suffocating these children and they don’t want to come up for air. His presence is powerful here. He is needed here, TRULY needed. And He is praised for things I know I take for granted such as protection, sustenance, a day without the loss of power, opportunity, and the unconditional love of family.

I wrestle with comfort.

And at risk of being vulnerable, maybe my comfort has lessened my need for God in a tangible way.
If I’m hungry I walk to my overflowing pantry, lonely…talk to III or call my mom, bored…pull out the iPad & scroll through google reader, cold…grab a blanket or a sweatshirt or turn up the heat, need discernment…search in one of my 6 bibles..

These children know what it is to NEED God & to rely on His hands & feet in this world. For them God’s perfect love casts out all fear…and now I truly see how God’s love is better than life.


…I (Jesus) have come that they may have life and to have it more abundantly. 
John 10:10


Stay tuned for more…so much more.

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Guest Post | Finding my Way in Texas

Hi A Step in the Journey Readers!

 I’m Jennifer and I am so excited that Laura Beth is letting me share with you some of what I’ve learned in my experiences with missions!

I guess I should start by telling you a bit about me and where I blog :) I’m the coffee addicted mind behind Finding My Way in Texas. I’m an avid reader, a Jesus lover, a wife, photographer, mom to fur baby Riah, blogger and craft-a-holic! I grew up in Ontario, Canada and only moved to Texas to get married last summer. Its been a bit of an adjustment going from the Big City to a tiny Texan town, but I love it here! I can’t imagine life anywhere else now.

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There was a time when I was seriously considering full time missions to Romania, ultimately God didn’t lead me in that direction, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself!
The church that I grew up in was a charismatic, non denominational type church that was very missions oriented. It seemed like someone from the church was always going on mission trips. I “caught the bug” early, so to speak. I went on my very first trip to Guatemala when I was 13 and again when I was 18. To say that those trips impacted my life would be an understatement. I came home each time with a renewed perspective. I was blessed. My family was blessed. And even though we were on the low end of middle class, we had FAR more than most of the people that I met.
When I was 16 I had an opportunity to travel to Romania for 2 months with an organization called Teen Mania. It’s based just a few hours from where I live now, in Garden Valley, Texas. I can honestly say that this trip permanently changed my life. It changed the way I looked at the people around me. It changed my faith and made it more real that I thought possible. It changed me and helped me establish who I was as a person with no outside expectations or influence. It changed my heart for missions.
There really are no words to perfectly describe what I saw God do while I was in Romania in 2000. It literally was biblical. Romania was getting ready for their first democratic election since the fall of communisim in 1989. The people were hungry for change. They were hungry for truth. And they were starving for the love of God. We saw the beginnings of revival in that country and it was incredible to see so many hearts and lives change.
I learned so much about who I was as a person. Up until that trip my identity had pretty much been wrapped up in who my family was at church, who my parents expected me to be, and what I thought everyone else wanted. Being thousands of miles away from everyone and everything I knew I had a chance to get in touch with the real me. I discovered a passion for Gods Word. A hunger to see people change. And I tuned into that still small voice of the Lord.
I came home changed. My inhibitions were gone. I wasn’t afraid to speak up and voice my opinion. I had HUGE expectations for what God could and would do through me. My gratitude meter was through the roof. And God continue to use me in new ways at home.
12 years (CRAZY) later and I still feel the impact of that trip. My relationship with God has continued strong, I know his voice and I am not afraid to be used by him. My life has gone in a direction that I never expected (Big city Canadian in small town Texas?), but that’s perfectly ok with me. God has a perfect plan for my life and He has one for yours too!
Thanks so much Laura Beth for letting me share a bit about how my trips have changed me! Its nice to take a few moments to remember, and be changed again :)
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THANK YOU JENNIFER! I am inspired by your willingness to tune into God & let Him use you to fulfill his purposes.

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Guest Post | The Narrow Road

  
Hey A Step in the Journey readers!  I’m Kimberlie from The Narrow Road  (however I admittedly am a much less frequent blogger than my friend Laura Beth).  I have known LB for over 4 years now and am lucky enough to call her a friend.  I’m an avid reader of her blog, with this oldie being a personal favorite, probably because it was also a present for my sister’s baby shower (you can now order them at her etsy shop!)  As soon as I saw she wanted someone to guest blog while she was in Africa, I was delighted to be included.  I started my blog when I began graduate school for professional counseling merely as a means to express what I was going through (Like this), and have begun using it as a way to chronicle my mission adventures and the like.  I’m thrilled to share my personal experience with missions while LB and III are in Africa on their mission trip!
                                      
I have a deep love and longing for Africa, which is shared by everyone I know who has been there or lives there.  It is a place unlike any other and has an air about it that is almost indescribable.  I am so excited for LB and III’s time there, and I’m sure they are going to be changed by their time in Uganda.  Let me back track a little though.  I had never been out of the country until I was 16 years old, and in the 10 years since then I am beyond blessed to have been to some really amazing places (Israel, TanzaniaKolkata). It is easy to say that I have the travel itch now, but more than that I have a desire to see the world the Lord created and an even stronger desire to go and use the skills I’ve acquired in whatever way possible for the underserved.    
I used to have the assumption about mission trips that if you were not able to build a house or wanted to do vacation bible school with kids then mission trips were not for you.  Well I will be the first to say I was wrong about that.  I don’t have the skills to build a house, or the strong desire to do vacation bible school with kids, but I have been used in some incredible ways on mission trips that I was not expecting, and it has generally been the case that I am most affected by the unexpected in those trips.  
I would venture to say a lot of people have some legitimate excuses for not going or wanting to go on mission trips, because I have likely used them as well.  However, reasons like money, time, and skill set     are often obstacles that can be overcome.  Of course seeking counsel and confirmation from the Lord on these matters is a priority and of utmost importance in my opinion.  I know for myself though, these reasons can often serve as a means of limiting what the Lord could be doing in my life through a potential trip.  I have a new perspective on approaching these types of opportunities and I try to never hinder what the Lord can do in terms of funding, vacation time, and abilities.  That being said, if none of those things come together, it could be that a specific trip is not for you, and that has been the case for me as well.  Every trip is not for every person.  It is important to ask questions, determine the goal of the trip, who you will be serving, and what impact going or not going could have.  This kind of awareness and openness to possibilities are key elements in my opinion.
I would like to share a story from my most recent trip to Kolkata.  A little back story is that during my last year of graduate school I interned at a place called Wellspring Living and did counseling with girls who had been sexually exploited or abused.  This was also the reason for going to India, to work with girls who have been victims of this as well.  Prior to my leaving, I discussed with the girls at Wellspring about my trip to India and what I would be doing while I was there.  At the girls request, they decided to make things for the girls at the home I would be visiting in Kolkata.  This, in itself, was touching because these girls can often have a one track mind about their own situation or road to recovery, as well as being typical teenage girls at times.  I was so proud of their maturity and concern for girls half way across the world who had been through similar things.  The aftercare home we went to was similar to Wellspring, in that the girls receive schooling, counseling, and overall care in the home after they have been rescued. I was able to give the girls the items that had been made for them, in addition to being able to read a card aloud to them about how even though they didn’t know each other, the girls understood the pain, were going through the same thing, and there was hope.  A few of the girls were crying and it was such an amazing experience.  The girls were so appreciative and told me to tell the girls in Atlanta that they loved them and wanted to keep in touch.  It was a privilege for me to be able to connect the issue both domestically and internationally as it links my passions for the cause as well.  They asked me questions about Wellspring and it was nice to be able to share some of my knowledge with them about what I do and why I love it.  The girls at the home had been working on a quilt all day and before we left they told us they would like us to take it back home and give it to the girls at Wellspring as a thank you.  Even without my involvement, this story solidifies the importance of missions for me and the reality that we are all human and desiring of being known and understood. 

With fellow IJM people

The quilt the girls made


I tell that story not to emphasize my part in any of it, but to demonstrate the impact that can be had on both parties and how just one person can be used to glorify God by being open and willing to the opportunity.  I truly believe being mission minded is something expected for those of us who call ourselves disciples; in addition to it being a proven benefit to emotional health for all others.  While it is not possible for everyone to leave the country and go to foreign places, there are so many ways to be involved.  You can also play a crucial, but usually unspoken part in mission trips through prayer or giving funds.  Moreover, it can be as easy as paying for someone behind you in line, volunteering your time, giving of resources or items to worthwhile causes.  God created everyone differently, whether that is being a steward of a large amount of money, having the skills to build a house, the ability of public speaking, or the gift of intercessory prayer.  The greatest challenge, in my opinion, is often not a lack of awareness of skills possessed, but more so a spirit of fear around what might be required of us.     
I am currently in the midst of decisions and interviewing for a year long placement abroad with an organization close to my heart, International Justice Mission.  Because of the season of life I find myself in, I definitely have some very recent first hand experiences with aspects of not being as open to possibilities and opportunities as I would like.  That is a work in progress though.  So if you Step in the Journey readers want to follow along as I chronicle the possible adventures, you can stop by my blog any time!
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It’s a true honor to call Kimberlie a friend. She is a great encouragement to me, & I am so glad she is a part of my life. I love her passion for Jesus & her willingness to follow wherever He leads her! Thanks for sharing friend.


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